Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/23/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/23/2009The news continues to focus on Iran. The regime’s crackdown has been fairly effective, so that dissident citizens are forced into less obvious ways of protest. Neda Soltani has become the movement’s martyr — even though she is far from the only casualty to have her death recorded on video, she is the one whose face has captured popular attention.

In other news, California has decided to combat its budget deficit by… wait for it… reducing the state income tax exemption for minor children! Way to go, guys — that’s bound to help your re-election prospects.

Thanks to Aeneas, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Diana West, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, KGS, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
Financial Crisis
The Coming Economic Collapse
U.S. Credit Rating a “Solid Triple-A”: Moody’s
World Bank Sees Most Economies in Deeper Slump
700 NYC Teachers Are Paid to Do Nothing
Climate Bill Set for Vote After Deal is Reached Article Comments
Judge Orders Guantanamo Detainee Freed
Pentagon Approves Creation of Cyber Command
State Cuts Tax Exemptions for Kids
White House to Abandon Spy-Satellite Program
Europe and the EU
£100m Black Hole Discovered in 2012 Olympics Accounts
Denmark: Iranian Embassy Issues Warning
EU: Mandelson Criticises Weaknesses on the ‘Yes’ Side
France Sets Up Burka Commission
France Announces Cabinet Shake-Up
Google Trial in Italy: Freedom V. Responsibility
Islam on the Way to Legal Equality With Christianity in Germany
Italy: Wire Taps: Di Pietro, A New Law to Save His Caste
Netherlands: Muslim Broadcasters Spend Subsidies Fighting Each Other
Romanians Leave Northern Ireland After Attacks
Sweden: Man Killed During Midsummer Knife Fight
Switzerland Moves to Dilute Bank Secrecy
UK Muslim Group Faults Sarkozy Over Burqa Remarks
UK: BNP Dismisses Legal Action Threat
UK: New Cyber Chief to Protect Against Computer Attacks
WWIII? British Release Secret Planning Manual
North Africa
Al-Qaeda Claims Algerian Ambush: Site
Terrorism in Algeria: Press Says Gendarmes Killed in Ambush
Israel and the Palestinians
Italy Backs Netanyahu’s Peace Plans
Mahmoud Abbas Orders Release of Hamas Prisoners
Middle East
Canadian PM Calls for Iran to Release Journalists
Christopher Hitchens: Persian Paranoia
Diana West: Blushing for Bret
Iran Says Courts Will Teach Protesters a Lesson
Iran’s ‘Angel of Freedom’ Neda Soltan Vowed to Protest Against Injustice
Iranian Film Maker Speaks
Israeli Minister’s Al-Aqsa Mosque Visit Angers Muslims
Kurdistan Brands Iraq Oil Contracts ‘Unconstitutional’
Middle East Politics: The Ideal, the Real, and the Imaginary
Mousavi, Celebrated in Iranian Protests, Was the Butcher of Beirut
Netanyahu Slams Iran at Start of Europe Trip
Obama Condemns Violence Against Iran Protesters
Protest Organisers Held in Iranian Raid — Report
U.S. Contacted Iran’s Ayatollah Before Election
Unrest Could Hinder Tehran’s Regional Goals
South Asia
Bangladesh: The Daughter Converts to Christianity, Muslims Marginalize the Family
India Bans Maoist Communist Party
Report: US, Kyrgyz Deal on Airbase Use
US Missile Strike Kills 60 at Funeral in Pakistan
Far East
China and US Hold Military Talks
Australia — Pacific
Notorious Bikie Boss Allan Sarkis Breaks His Silence
Perth Dobs in Bikies
Weapons Found in Unit: Ibrahim Guilty
Sub-Saharan Africa
Mau Mau Veterans Lodge Compensation Claim Against UK
Nigerian Militants Attack Three Shell Oil Sites
Somali ‘Thieves’ Face Amputation
Latin America
Mexico: ‘Green Fund’ Better Than Carbon Credits
Official: No Black Box Signals From Flight 447
28,000 Illegal Attempts to Enter UK Foiled
Problem for EU, Emergency Plan Soon
Thomson Reuters Plans to End Dual-Company Structure
UN: Islamic Law is Major Influence on Refugee Law, Says Study

Financial Crisis

The Coming Economic Collapse

by Graham Summers

Today’s essay details the ongoing collapse of the US economy with a focus on why this coming fall will prove the “worst is over” crowd wrong yet again. Earlier this week, I detailed three major developments. They were:

  • The US’s economic shift from manufacturing to services (mainly financial)
  • The massive drop in US incomes
  • The beginning of the debt bubble

Today, we’re addressing how the debt bubble encapsulated the US government as well as why Obama’s Stimulus Plan won’t fix anything.

To revisit the above three points, the US began outsourcing jobs in earnest soon after we re-opened trade with China in 1971. As outsourcing spread to higher and higher skilled jobs, this meant fewer jobs in the US market. This resulted in US consumers having to use credit to maintain their standard of living. It also meant more than one parent working to make ends meet.

On a national level, the US government began living beyond its means as well. Adjusted for inflation, gross tax receipts have only risen 40% in the last 39 years. However, over the same time period, total government spending increased 2,600%!!!

To fund this insanity, the US issued debt in the form of Treasuries. Foreign governments (most notably China) which were generally getting richer selling us stuff loaded up. The whole scheme is similar to buying a toy from the store, then having the store lend you money to buy another toy… ad infinitum: hardly a sensible long-term plan for financial solvency.

Now, everyone knows we run deficits. But not everyone knows that the deficits we publish are unbelievably understated. Corporations, in order to qualify for generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) have to count their pension and healthcare expenses for retirees.

Uncle Sam doesn’t…

[Return to headlines]

U.S. Credit Rating a “Solid Triple-A”: Moody’s

TOKYO (Reuters) — Moody’s Investors Service said on Tuesday that the U.S. government’s triple-A credit rating was safe but added that it could be at risk if Washington were unable to bring its public debt back to a downward trajectory.

Financial markets have repeatedly been spooked this year by concern that triple-A rated governments such as the United States and Britain could face credit ratings downgrades as they borrow heavily to spend their way out of recession.

“The U.S. government triple-A is safe,” Pierre Cailleteau, team managing director of Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, said at a media briefing on sovereign credit ratings held in Tokyo.

Moody’s has a stable outlook on the U.S. rating, which indicates a change is not expected over the next 18 months.

Replying to a question about the sovereign rating of the United States, Cailleteau said the U.S. rating “remains a solid triple-A.”

But he added that there were possible risks that could lead to a downgrade.

“That will happen for two reasons. Either our assumptions in terms of debt reversibility prove to be wrong. That is, in fact the U.S. government is unable to bring public debt back to a downward trajectory,” he said.

The other reason would be if the United States’ ability to raise a large amount of debt at a low cost were to be put at risk, Cailleteau said.

“It could be put at risk if the U.S. dollar was severely challenged as the main international reserve currency,” he said.

But the possibility of the dollar being replaced as the main international reserve currency in the near future was a “pretty remote risk,” he added.

Debate has flared in the past few months about the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency at a time when the United States’ debt issuance is ballooning to pay for financial and economic rescue programs.

The bulk of the world’s foreign exchange reserves are held in dollars, and Russia, the holder of the world’s third-largest reserves after China and Japan, has repeatedly called for less global reliance on the dollar.

Moody’s Investors Service said in May that it was comfortable with the triple-A sovereign rating on the United States, but it was not guaranteed forever.

It also warned in May that if the United States failed to reduce current debt levels once economic growth returned, the triple-A rating could come under pressure.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

World Bank Sees Most Economies in Deeper Slump

SEOUL (Reuters) — The World Bank warned on Monday prospects for the global economy remained “unusually uncertain” despite recent signs of improvement in parts of the world and cut its 2009 growth forecasts for most economies.

The World Bank, which has recently cut its forecast for the global economy to a contraction of 2.9 percent from a projection for a 1.7 percent decline set in March, released details on individual economies for the first time on Monday.

It also called on the governments around the world for “vigilance” in drawing up exit strategy to reverse the recently expansionary monetary and fiscal policy once the world economy takes off for recovery.

The bank said in a Global Development Finance report released on the sidelines of an international conference in Seoul that the unprecedented expansionary policy could result in heavy adverse effects on the future policy if maintained after the recovery.

Following are the World Bank’s revised gross domestic product

forecasts for 2009 and 2010 for major economies.

(percent change in calendar 2009 over a year earlier unless stated)

2009 2010

revised prev revised prev

World -2.9 -1.7 2.0 2.3

High-income economies

Euro Area -4.5 -2.7 0.5 0.9

Japan -6.8 -5.3 1.0 1.5

United States -3.0 -2.4 1.8 2.0

Developing economies

*China 7.2 6.5 7.7 7.5

Russia -7.5 -4.5 2.5 0.0

Brazil -1.1 0.5 2.5 3.2

^India 5.1 4.0 8.0 7.0

* Updated forecasts for China were first released on June 18

Forecasts on a fiscal year basis

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


700 NYC Teachers Are Paid to Do Nothing

NEW YORK — Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms” — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

“You just basically sit there for eight hours,” said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. “I saw several near-fights. ‘This is my seat.’ ‘I’ve been sitting here for six months.’ That sort of thing.”

Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

“It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract,” spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.

“No one wants teachers who don’t belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers’ rights to due process,” Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.

Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.

“The principal wants you out, you’re gone,” said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.

City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. “There’s been a push to report anything that you see wrong,” Forte said.

Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.

The Los Angeles district, the nation’s second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York’s 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being “housed” while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.

Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a “cluster office.” “They just sit you in a room in a hard chair,” she said, “and you just sit.”

Teacher advocates say New York’s rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere.

Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work — office duties, for example — for teachers accused of misconduct.

New York City’s reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.

Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six.

The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don’t belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health.

“Most people in that room are depressed,” said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: “I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing.”

The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said.

“There was a bar across the street,” Saunders said. “Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours.”

Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees.

“The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting,” Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.

Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi.

David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl’s test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument.

“It’s sort of peaceful knowing that you’re going to work to do nothing,” he said.

Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, “supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight.” He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing.

He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel.

“This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history,” he said, alluding to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “They put us in prison and we write our ‘Letter From the Birmingham Jail.’“

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Climate Bill Set for Vote After Deal is Reached Article Comments

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote Friday on a sprawling climate-change bill, signaling the Democratic leadership’s confidence that it can overcome objections from Farm Belt Democrats.

Opponents and supporters of landmark climate legislation are ramping up their public-relations campaigns ahead of the planned vote. The Obama administration is pushing the measure as a job-creator, while critics, including many Republicans, are portraying the bill as an energy tax that could slow the economy.

The legislation, co-sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.), had stalled last week because of opposition from Farm Belt Democrats concerned their states will face heavier costs under the proposed law to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Discussions were still continuing Tuesday. Josh Syrjamaki, chief of staff for one of those Democrats, Minnesota Rep. Timothy Walz, said his boss hadn’t yet given his support for the bill because he hadn’t yet seen details of a deal.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said in an email late Monday evening: “There are some issues still under discussion, but we are confident we can resolve them by the time the bill goes to the floor on Friday.”

The bill aims to cap greenhouse-gas emissions at 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and at roughly 80% by 2050, creating a market for companies to buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide and other gases. It also mandates a new renewable electricity standard and establishes new national building codes.

It would mark the first time that either of the two chambers of Congress have voted to impose mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions — a goal President Barack Obama wants to achieve before a round of international climate talks in December in Copenhagen.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday said the House climate bill is “extraordinarily important for our country,” urging House members “to come together and pass it.” The president said it would create millions of new “green” jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Mr. Obama also sent his top cabinet officials, including his Energy, Interior, Transportation and Labor secretaries, around the country to gather public support.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Judge Orders Guantanamo Detainee Freed

WASHINGTON — The discovery of suicide martyr videos seemed certain proof that Abd al Rahim Abdul Rassak was part of al-Qaida. A closer look at his video, though, showed he was actually being tortured by al-Qaida.

The confusion over the video collection found in an al-Qaida safehouse is one of the stranger twists in the unusual case of Rassak, a Guantanamo detainee. On Monday, a federal judge ordered Rassak released, chastising the government for claiming he was still part of the same terror network that tortured, imprisoned and abandoned him.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon emphatically rejected the government’s claims against Rassak, even going so far as to add punctuation to get his point across.

Federal prosecutors had argued that even though Rassak was tortured by al-Qaida as a suspected Western spy and imprisoned by the Taliban for a year and a half, he still maintained some kind of allegiance to his tormentors.

“I disagree!” wrote the judge, adding that U.S. officials are “taking a position that defies common sense.”

The judge said the government and the U.S. media initially mistook Rassak as one of a number of suicide martyrs, based on a videotape captured at an al-Qaida safehouse. Further investigation found the tape actually showed al-Qaida torturing him.

In a 13-page written decision, the judge heaped scorn on the suggestion that Rassak could be part of the same terrorist organizations that had abused him.

Rassak, a Syrian, had admitted to U.S. interrogators that in 2000, he stayed for several days at a guesthouse used by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, where he helped clean weapons, and then briefly attended a terror training camp.

“There is no evidence — from either side — as to why he suddenly was suspected by al-Qaida leaders of spying and was tortured for months into giving a false confession,” Leon wrote. “It is highly unlikely that by that point in time al-Qaida (or the Taliban) had any trust or confidence in him. Surely extreme treatment of that nature evinces a total evisceration of whatever relationship might have existed!”

One of the detainee’s lawyers, Steven Wax, said the judge’s decision “is yet another reminder that there are innocent men in Guantanamo.”

Wax said his client “was conscripted by the Taliban and, when he wanted to leave, was imprisoned and then subjected to barbaric torture. He was imprisoned by the United States when he tried to provide information to us about his torturers.”

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said it was reviewing the judge’s ruling.

Since his captivity at Guantanamo, Rassak has adopted a different last name, Janko.

There are 229 detainees still held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama ordered the detention center closed by early next year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pentagon Approves Creation of Cyber Command

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) — The Pentagon will create a Cyber Command to oversee the U.S. military’s efforts to protect its computer networks and operate in cyberspace, under an order signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday.

The new headquarters, likely to be based at Fort Meade, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., will be responsible for defending U.S. military systems but not other U.S. government or private networks, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Asked if the command would be capable of offensive operations as well as protecting the Department of Defense, Whitman declined to answer directly.

“This command is going to focus on the protection and operation of DoD’s networks,” he said. “This command is going to do what is necessary to be able to do that.”

U.S. officials have voiced growing concern in recent years about being vulnerable to attacks on the country’s civilian or military networks as technology takes on an ever-increasing role, including in military operations..

President Barack Obama said last month he would name a White House-level czar to coordinate government efforts to fight cybercrime.

The United States has said many attempts to penetrate its networks appear to come from China but it has stopped short of accusing Chinese authorities of being responsible.

Whitman said the new command will consolidate existing Pentagon efforts to protect its networks and operate in cyberspace.

Those efforts currently come under the auspices of U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska, which will also oversee the new headquarters.

The U.S. Department of Defense runs some 15,000 electronic networks and runs some 7 million computers and other information technology devices, Whitman said.

“Our defense networks are constantly probed. There are millions of scans every day,” he said.

“The power to disrupt and destroy, once the sole province of nations, now also rests with small groups and individuals, from terrorist groups to organized crime to industrial spies to hacker activists, to teenage hackers,” he said.

“We also know that foreign governments are trying to develop offensive cyber capabilities,” he added, saying more than 100 foreign intelligence services were trying to hack into U.S. networks.

The new command should begin initial operations by this October and be fully up and running a year later.

The head of the Cyber Command would also be the director of the U.S. National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance and communications interception and is also based at Fort Meade. (Editing by Eric Walsh)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

State Cuts Tax Exemptions for Kids

California parents beware: Those little tax deductions running around the house are now worth less (in a strictly financial sense, of course).

To help balance its budget, California has reduced the state tax credit for dependents.

The change will increase a family’s California taxes for 2009 by about $210 per dependent compared with 2008.

A family with one dependent that normally gets a state-tax refund will get back $210 less when they file their 2009 return next year. A family that normally owes money will have to pay $210 more. Multiply that by two or more dependents, and it really adds up.

This may come as a shock to parents who have been too busy shuttling between soccer games and viola lessons to keep up with the state’s budget fiasco. The Franchise Tax Board is trying to get the word out, so families can prepare.

At issue is the exemption you get for each person listed on your tax return. The credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. (The exemption credit phases out for couples with more than roughly $326,400 in adjusted gross income and singles with more than $163,200. This column applies to those under the limit.)

The change essentially takes us back to where we were before 1998.

Before then, the credit was the same for adults and dependents. But in 1998, when the state was awash in cash, it roughly tripled the amount for dependents.

In 2008, the exemption was $99 for each adult and $309 per dependent.

Now that the state is swimming in red ink, it decided to take away that gift to families and set the dependent credit equal to the adult amount for 2009 and 2010. So the dependent credit will shrink from $309 to roughly $99. (The credit is indexed for inflation; the final amount for 2009 will be announced later this summer.)

If you are in this boat and would rather not face a big tax bill early next year, you could pay more state tax this year, either by increasing the amount withheld from your paycheck or — if you are self-employed — by making bigger estimated quarterly tax payments.

To increase your withholding, file a new Form DE 4 with your employer. (This is the state version of the federal Form W-4.) You can get one at work or download it at links.sfgate.com/ZHLJ.

You don’t have to do this now. The Franchise Tax Board will not slap you with an underpayment penalty that results from this change on your 2009 taxes. But it could for 2010.

If you don’t increase your withholding, make sure you’re saving enough to pay the tax next year, says Gina Rodriquez, Sacramento bureau chief with Spidell Publishing, which provides education and research to tax professionals.

Tax rates raised

At the same time it slashed the dependent credit, the state also raised all tax rates by one-quarter of 1 percent.

A married couple with $100,000 in taxable income that paid $4,689 in California income tax last year would pay $4,939 next year — a difference of $250.

The state sent new tax-withholding tables reflecting this change to employers in April. Employers should have started using them in May.

Many employees will have been underwithheld for the first four months of the year. That means a slightly bigger tax bill (or smaller refund) when they file their 2009 taxes.

Again, states won’t penalize people for underwithholding that results from this tax change. So if you don’t have dependents, there’s probably no need to file a new Form DE 4 because of the change in the tax rates.

Just to be clear: The new withholding tables do not account for the decrease in the dependent credit. Parents who want to avoid that tax shock should consider filing a new DE 4.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

White House to Abandon Spy-Satellite Program

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to kill a controversial Bush administration spy satellite program at the Department of Homeland Security, according to officials familiar with the decision.

The program came under fire from its inception two years ago. Democratic lawmakers said it would lead to domestic spying.

The program would have provided federal, state and local officials with extensive access to spy-satellite imagery — but no eavesdropping capabilities— to assist with emergency response and other domestic-security needs, such as identifying where ports or border areas are vulnerable to terrorism.

It would have expanded an Interior Department satellite program, which will continue to be used to assist in natural disasters and for other limited security purposes such as photographing sporting events. The Wall Street Journal first revealed the plans to establish the program, known as the National Applications Office, in 2007.

“It’s being shut down,” said a homeland security official.

The Bush administration had taken preliminary steps to launch the office, such as acquiring office space and beginning to hire staff.

The plans to shutter the office signal Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s decision to refocus the department’s intelligence on ensuring that state and local officials get the threat information they need, the official said. She also wants to make the department the central point in the government for receiving and analyzing terrorism tips from around the country, the official added.

Lawmakers alerted Ms. Napolitano of their concerns about the program-that the program would violate the Fourth amendment right to be protected from unreasonable searches-before her confirmation hearing.

Once she assumed her post, Ms. Napolitano ordered a review of the program and concluded the program wasn’t worth pursuing, the homeland official said. Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa declined to speak about the results of the review but said they would be announced shortly.

The lawmakers were most concerned about plans to provide satellite imagery to state and local law enforcement, so department officials asked state and local officials how useful that information would be to them. The answer: not very useful.

“In our view, the NAO is not an issue of urgency,” Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, wrote to Ms. Napolitano on June 21.

Writing on behalf of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Chief Bratton said that were the program to go forward, the police chiefs would be concerned about privacy protections and whether using military satellites for domestic purposes would violate the Posse Comitatus law, which bars the use of the military for law enforcement in the U.S.

Rep. Jane Harman (D., Calif.), who oversees the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said she was alarmed when she recently saw that the Obama administration requested money for the program in a classified 2010 budget proposal. She introduced two bills that would terminate the program.

“It’s a good decision,” Ms. Harman said in an interview. “This will remove a distraction and let the intelligence function at [the department] truly serve the community that needs it, which is local law enforcement.”

Supporters of the program lamented what they said was the loss of an important new terrorism-fighting tool for natural disasters and terrorist attacks, as well as border security.

“After numerous congressional briefings on the importance of the NAO and its solid legal footing, politics beat out good government,” said Andrew Levy, who was deputy general counsel at the department in the Bush administration.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

£100m Black Hole Discovered in 2012 Olympics Accounts

A £100m black hole in the 2012 Olympics accounts of the London Development Agency (LDA) is to be investigated by independent auditors, it was revealed last night.

A routine check on the accounts of the LDA, which is the business and development arm of Mayor Boris Johnson, hasrevealed huge irregularities with the accounting of taxpayer’s money. A team of external accountants from KPMG, the consultancy that has been advising other parts of the London 2012 set-up on cost-cutting measures, has now been called in to investigate the whereabouts of the missing money.

Two senior members of staff at the LDA have been suspended. Gareth Blacker, who oversaw the purchase of the huge Olympic site on the Lea Valley, adjacent to Stratford in east London, is on indefinite leave, as is his accountant. No evidence of wrongdoing is attached to either Mr Blacker or his accountant.

Concerns began to mount after the Mayor announced a comprehensive audit of LDA accounts in March. The Olympic Legacy Directorate (OLD) was the last of the LDA departments to be reviewed. Analysis of its accounts revealed that between £60m and £100m, which was due to be put aside as compensation for businesses forced to relocate from the site, is unaccounted for.

Previously a highly contaminated industrial waste land, the Olympic site in Stratford is being redeveloped in the biggest construction project in Western Europe. The LDA has so far paid around £750m for its work on the land, which included deals of close to £1m per acre with each of the 193 small and medium-sized businesses forced to relocate. Many have moved to nearby industrial complexes in east London but more than four years after London’s bid proved successful 72 claims are yet to be settled.

The LDA is due to stop existing in October when its £1.1bn budget, which is mostly tied up in the price of land, is handed over to an Olympic legacy company set up to ensure lasting benefits from the games. The LDA budget has no bearing on the overall £9.3bn budget for the construction of the Olympic site by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which continues to be ahead of schedule.

The auditors will be tasked with discovering whether or not taxpayer’s money was wasted or misplaced through incompetence — and whether or not it is now retrievable. A source told The Times: “This has gone beyond a routine audit, into the realms of a fraud investigation”.

The revelations will come as a fresh blow to Johnson. In December, David Ross, the founder of Carphone Warehouse who oversaw the Olympic budget and advised on legacy issues for the Mayor, quit from his position following a shares scandal. Just this week, Ian Clement, a deputy Mayor, resigned after irregularities were found in the use of his taxpayer-funded credit card..

A spokesman for the LDA said “additional spending commitments” have been identified.

KPMG declined to comment.The two suspended LDA employees were unavailable for comment, and the agency refused to discuss personnel issues.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Iranian Embassy Issues Warning

Demonstrations in Iran against the results of the presidential election are an insult to democracy, according to the Iranian embassy in Denmark The Iranian embassy in Copenhagen has issued a veiled threat to Danish politicians and media regarding their stance…

The Iranian embassy in Copenhagen has issued a veiled threat to Danish politicians and media regarding their stance on the current demonstrations gripping the Central Eurasian country following recent presidential elections.

The presidential election on 12 June saw the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi both claim victory after the polls closed. In what the embassy said was a democratic, competitive and transparent election, Ahmadinejad was found to have received 63 percent of the vote.

Clashes between rival supporters and claims of vote tampering followed and demonstrations on the streets of Iran have seen scores wounded and killed in recent days.

In a statement sent to The Copenhagen Post, the Iranian embassy said the supervision of the elections means there was zero chance of ballot manipulation and spoke out strongly against those who support the demonstrators, whose actions they said were ‘an insult to democracy’.

‘The Islamic Republic of Iran is closely monitoring all stances and positions taken by different countries,’ read the statement, ‘and will no doubt take into future consideration the irresponsible and inflammatory positions of officials and media of other countries.’

The embassy continued by saying that some Western countries only support human rights and democracy in their own self-interest.

The ambassador in Copenhagen was called to a meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday on the back of an EU plan to summon all Iranian diplomats to protest against the violence in Iran.

Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller yesterday warned against the international community embracing the demonstrators issues as their own as it will isolate them in their own country as ‘foreign agents’.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

EU: Mandelson Criticises Weaknesses on the ‘Yes’ Side

BRITISH EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson yesterday hit out at the Government’s failure to convince voters to say ‘Yes’ to Lisbon.

The former British MP and Northern Ireland Secretary attempted to deflect criticism directed against him by the farm lobby here over his controversial negotiating tactics at World Trade talks.

Instead, he turned on anti-Lisbon campaigners, who, he claimed, made “completely fallacious assertions”, about abortion, conscription and neutrality.

And he accused the Government and ‘Yes’ campaigners of failing to face down the Lisbon opponents.

“An appalling number of rumours, on which people’s prejudices and fears were built, had contributed to the ‘No’ vote in Ireland,” he said.

“All of those fears should have been addressed, all those misrepresentations should have been corrected.”

However, the major parties who campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote here, last night refused to respond to Mr Mandelson’s criticisms.

A Fine Gael spokesman would only say Mr Mandelson was entitled to his opinion. Labour were also reluctant to defend themselves against his criticisms.

“A lot of people could say a lot of things about the referendum, but some things are better left unsaid,” a spokesman told the Irish Independent.

Meanwhile, Britain yesterday ratified the Lisbon Treaty after legislation passed by parliament was given Royal Assent. The Queen’s approval of the European Union (Amendment) Bill represents the final stage in Britain’s ratification of the treaty.

It follows the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords, despite last ditch efforts by opponents of the treaty to delay its adoption.

Arriving at the summit yesterday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters the EU had to respond to the Irish no vote in a manner that was “respectful, calm and above all listens”.

“I think there is unity across the European Union that the respect and space that the Brian Cowen has asked for should be delivered,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

France Sets Up Burka Commission

France is to set up a commission to study the extent of burka-wearing in the country, after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the veils reduced dignity.

He said the burka — a garment worn by Muslims that covers the body from head to toe — “deprived women of identity”.

The French National Assembly has appointed 32 lawmakers on a fact-finding mission to look at ways of restricting its use.

France is home to Western Europe’s largest population of Muslims.

In a speech, Mr Sarkozy said it was unacceptable to have women in France who were “prisoners behind netting”.

He said it was not a sign of religion but a “sign of subservience”. However, he also called for respect for Muslims.

Assembly Speaker Bernard Accoyer said the lawmakers from right and left-wing parties would have six months to examine the issue before making recommendations.

In 2004, France banned the Islamic headscarves in its state schools.

About five million Muslims live in France.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

France Announces Cabinet Shake-Up

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy revamped France’s Cabinet on Tuesday, turning to conservative loyalists and ousting two poorly performing ministers in the second reshuffle of the government since he took office in 2007.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon will stay on, and crucial international posts including the foreign and defense ministers remained unchanged. Newcomers are set to take charge in important posts at the Justice, Education and Interior Ministries.

The announcement of the Cabinet shake-up by Elysee Palace secretary-general Claude Gueant had been expected after two ministers — Justice Minister Rachida Dati and Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier — were elected to the European Parliament on June 7.

But the changes also gave Sarkozy a pretext to jettison two women who were widely considered failures in their jobs — Dati, and Culture Minister Christine Albanel.

Dati, the highest-ranking woman of North African descent ever to serve in France’s Cabinet, struggled against violent protests by prison workers that enflamed an-already tense situation in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

Albanel mishandled the presentation in parliament of a bill to punish people who illegally download music and films by cutting off their Internet connections. The bill should have sailed through the conservative-dominated National Assembly, but a clever maneuver by the opposition Socialists caused it to fail clumsily on a first run through the chamber.

Both women are said to be close to Sarkozy’s ex-wife, Cecilia Attias.

The changes also make the top ranks of the government less diverse — only four women are among the 18 full ministers, down from seven in the previous one. Including the junior ministers, the Cabinet is made up of 38 members.

Among the biggest surprises was the choice as culture minister of Frederic Mitterrand, a nephew of late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and current head of the Rome branch of the Alliance France cultural organization.

Dati and Barnier had been expected to leave the government as part of an unofficial rule under Sarkozy that ministers should not hold other elective posts while serving in the Cabinet.

However, an exception was made for Brice Hortefeux, a longtime Sarkozy confidant, who was also elected to the European Parliament but will remain in the Cabinet — moving from the Labor Ministry to the Interior Ministry.

Other Sarkozy allies taking high-ranking posts include Xavier Darcos, who was moved from the Education Ministry to the Labor Ministry, and Luc Chatel — once the spokesman for Sarkozy’s conservative party — will take over as education minister.

Prime-time newscasts cut away from their regular programming to broadcast Gueant’s simple reading of the new lineup from the front steps of the presidential palace.

The Cabinet changes are the second since Sarkozy and a conservative majority in parliament were elected in mid-2007.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Google Trial in Italy: Freedom V. Responsibility

ROME — Testimony begins Tuesday in the Italian trial of four Google executives accused of defamation and violating privacy for allowing a video to be posted online showing an autistic youth being abused.

All four deny wrongdoing. The case could set the tone for new limits on sharing videos and other content on the Web.

Google says the case violates EU rules by trying to place responsibility on providers for content uploaded by users.

The Mountain View, California, company also considers the trial a threat to freedom on the Internet because it could force providers into an impossible task — prescreening the thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto Web sites like the Google-owned YouTube.

Prosecutors and civil plaintiffs insist they don’t want to censor the Internet, and maintain the case is about enforcing Italy’s privacy rules as well as ensuring large corporations do their utmost to block inappropriate content, or quickly delete it.

“It’s the first case of this kind in Italy and Europe,” said Alessandro del Ninno, a lawyer and expert on Internet law. “The risk is that it will force providers to preventively control the content, something that goes against the very nature of the Internet.”

The defendants, who are being tried in absentia in Milan, are Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes, senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer.

The probe was sought by Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome, which alerted prosecutors to the 2006 video showing an autistic student in Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school. In the footage, the youth is being mistreated while one of the teenagers puts in a mock telephone call to Vivi Down.

The events shortly preceded Google’s 2006 acquisition of YouTube.

Google Italia, which is based in Milan, eventually took down the video, though the two sides disagree on how fast the company reacted to complaints. Thanks to the footage and Google’s cooperation, the four bullies were identified and sentenced to community service by a juvenile court.

But prosecutors also sought trial for the Google executives, who could face up to three years in jail, for failing to protect the youth’s privacy by allowing the video to be uploaded.

“We feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong,” Google said in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s session. “It’s akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post.”

“Seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open Internet,” it said.

The trial opened in February, with the court so far dealing with procedural matters. In Tuesday’s session a company technician is expected to take the stand to explain how Google Video works.

A ruling is expected in July or after a summer break.

The family of the youth withdrew from the trial when it opened, leaving Vivi Down as the main plaintiff in a civil lawsuit attached to the case.

“It is not correct to talk about censorship, this is not our goal,” said Guido Camera, a lawyer for the group. “We ask that at least users be made aware of their responsibilities.”

Prosecutors say they are aware Google cannot screen all videos, but maintain the company didn’t have enough automatic filters in place as well as warnings to users on privacy and copyright laws. They also say Google didn’t have enough workers assigned to its Italian service in order to react quickly to videos flagged as inappropriate by viewers.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Islam on the Way to Legal Equality With Christianity in Germany

Calls are growing in Germany for Islam to be granted the same legal status, rights and duties as other recognised religions, with the idea forming the main focus for this week’s Islam Conference.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democratic Union has said this is his long-term aim, while the Greens this week urged the conference to take concrete steps in that direction.

But a number of formalities have to be fulfilled for the German constitution to recognise Islam as an official religious community, including the ability to provide teachers to give children education in state schools about their faith.

The Muslim communities in Germany are still a way away from this, Schäuble recently told the Tageszeitung.

He said the conference was, “a fair way along the road to reaching the point of being able to offer religion classes at schools to Islamic children. We have developed a more exact understanding together that one can only introduce religion classes in a partnership.”

He acknowledged the fact that the state governments have jurisdiction over education, and are far from accepting the idea of putting Islamic religion classes on an equal footing with Catholic and Evangelical classes.

But he said: “This process needs time. So, for example, existing associations such as the Islam Council, are religious associations, but not a religious community as far as the constitution is concerned. Religious instruction is needed for that.”

Schäuble perhaps unwittingly illustrated how far integration still had to go when he admitted forgetting to invite any Muslim representative to last month’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the German constitution.

“It’s completely clear that the fact that there was no invitation, was a regrettable mistake. I asked my people directly afterwards… why we did not do it.”

When asked why an invitation had not been sent out, he said: “We did not think about it. Integration is a learning process — also in my department.”

The Greens party this week drew up a discussion paper which set out further conditions which any formalised religious community would be expected to fulfil. This included active campaigning for religious freedom of non-Muslims, as well as working for the rights of Muslim women, and against anti-Semitism and against homophobic violence.

Germany’s Bishops’ Conference has also spoken out in favour of the long-term legal equality of Islam. Its secretary Hans Langendörfer wrote in a piece for the Tageszeitung it was, “fundamentally desirable that the Muslim community be set on a legally equal level as the Christian Churches. Above all, the status of a ‘legal public corporation’ is not a right exclusive to the churches.”

The Islam Conference meets on Thursday.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Italy: Wire Taps: Di Pietro, A New Law to Save His Caste

(AGI) — Rome, 10 June — Antonio Di Pietro has criticised the government bill on wiretaps on which the government has asked the confidence vote. “Premier Silvio Berlusconi, after presenting the Alfano Law to make sure of his impunity, and the Apicella Law to fly around with his court in the state airplane, now passes the law on wiretaps to allow the political and financial caste of this country to escape justice” the leader of the IDV party said in a statement. “The Republic is in full crisis and we must stop this fascist dictatorship before it’s too late”. Di Pietro will not be in Parliament today due to medical tests. “It’s clear: the Berlusconi era is coming to an end” Di Pietro continued, “the Italians are realising that he is not the leader he wants us to believe he is, but only someone who takes advantage of the media, public and private, which he controls and uses to his advantage and to have his acolytes elected”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Muslim Broadcasters Spend Subsidies Fighting Each Other

THE HAGUE, 23/06/09 — The two Muslim broadcasters subsidised by the Dutch government have spent hundreds of thousands of euros of that money on legal battles against each other. This emerges from annual accounts obtained by Trouw newspaper.

Every big religious movement receives a subsidy in the Netherlands for its own public broadcaster. Islam however has two broadcasters because Muslim groups have been unable to agree among themselves on a single umbrella broadcaster.

The Foundation for the Care of Islamic Broadcasting Time (SVIZ) was set up in 2007 to keep the two Muslim broadcasters — Netherlands Muslim Broadcasting (NMO) and the Netherlands Islamic Broadcaster (NIO) — in dialogue. But due to internal fights, SVIZ now also threatens to fall apart.

Four of the nine SVIZ management board members have lost confidence in chairman Mohamed Sini. The board members accuse him of not being independent. Court cases to oust Sini have already cost the Muslim broadcasters nearly 200,000 euros in one and a half year’s time, according to Trouw.

Additionally, there is another legal question at play; NMO is refusing to give SVIZ access to its accounts. In this dispute as well, subsidies have been used to pay lawyers.

In March, the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service (FIOD-ECD) raided NMO. It is investigating it on the basis of a report by the Media Commissariat against former NMO director Frank William. The investigation is according to a spokesman focused on forgery, misappropriation and swindling.

Last week, it already emerged that the business director of SVIZ, Maurice Koopman, receives 1,500 euros per week for one and a half working days. His job consists of dividing up the subsidies between the two Muslim broadcasters. Koopman said he does not feel overpaid. “Have you ever worked with Muslims?”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Romanians Leave Northern Ireland After Attacks

One hundred Romanians who fled their homes in Belfast after a spate of recent attacks have decided to leave Northern Ireland and return to Romania.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said 25 people had already left and 75 were going to leave as soon as they could, 14 will stay in NI.

Meanwhile, a man has been remanded in custody charged with intimidating Romanian people in Belfast.

Shane Murphy, 21, of Donegall Road in the city, denies the charge.

His solicitor, who had applied for bail on his client’s behalf, said Mr Murphy also denied a further charge of acting provocatively by shouting racist comments at a rally held on Lisburn Road in the city last week.

The judge, sitting at Belfast Magistrates Court, refused a bail application because he said there was a danger Mr Murphy could interfere with witnesses.

On Monday, a 15-year-old boy appeared in court charged in connection with the same incidents.

A 16-year-old boy appeared alongside him accused of provocative behaviour at the anti-racism rally.

The Housing Executive is paying for the families, members of the Roma ethnic group, to return to Romania using emergency funds.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said it was likely the remaining families would leave before the end of the week.

“We have all spoken to the the Romanian families and the majority of them want to go home,” he said.

City Church, which last week provided temporary overnight shelter for the ethnic Roma, was targeted by vandals on Monday night.

Three men, all aged 20, were arrested in connection with the attack but later released.

Police are not linking this incident to the ongoing investigation into the attacks on Romanian families in south Belfast.

They said there was no indication that the attack on the church was hate or racially motivated

Pastor Malcolm Morgan said the church was covered in broken glass.

“I arrived this morning to find windows smashed at the front of our church and our main glass doorway smashed as well,” he said.

“Stones were lying scattered on the floor inside and outside and obviously broken glass was everywhere.”

On Monday night, another two youths, aged 16 and 17, were arrested in connection with alleged provocative conduct and intimidation. They were released on Tuesday.

Police do not believe paramilitaries were involved in last week’s attacks, which were condemned by all political parties.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Man Killed During Midsummer Knife Fight

A man was stabbed to death during a fight near Borgholm on Öland, an island off the east coast of Sweden and a popular spot for Midsummer celebrations. But in many parts of the country, poor weather put a damper on the Midsummer festivities.

One person was stabbed to death during a fight north of Borgholm, and several other people sustained less severe knife wounds. Police were called shortly after midnight on Midsummer Day but do not want to release further details.

“To say the least, this is a mess. A lot of youth were on Öland to celebrate Midsummer and this was a fight between rival gangs. Knives were involved, one person died and several are injured. Their relatives have not yet been informed,” Alf Jacobsson of the Kalmar police told TT.

The celebrations in Gothenburg were characterized by fights and drunkenness, but there were no major incidents.

“It was like a more troublesome Saturday. But now it’s pouring rain and that is a good preventative measure when it comes to criminal activity,” said Thomas Gorner of the Gothenburg police.

In Skåne in southern Sweden, midsummer celebrations remained calm until around 1 am.

“Then it was like …all hell broke loose. There have been a lot of incidents. There has been drunkenness, fights, assault, but not at a bar, but rather at a camp sites and private parties,” said Anders Nilsson, commander on duty in Skåne and Blekinge.

No major injuries were reported, however, and no particular location has stood out, he added.

Other parts of Sweden reported that things were business as usual.

“Like a normal Midsummer. Things have been relatively calm in Luleå all year, and also now. Things have been more problematic in the northern part of the municipality, in particular in Pajala where a festival is going on,” said Catrin Hedqvist of the Norrbotten police in northern Sweden.

In Dalarna in central Sweden, things were calmer than usual, partially due to the weather.

“But in Leksand, where we normally have trouble, things were calm and we have had a lot of officers out,” said Kent Link of the Dalarna police.

In Stockholm, it was like a regular weekend and many were thought to have gone out of town.

“Of course we’ve had a lot to do, but I had expected much worse. The city centre has been the most calm,” said Jens Mårtensson of the Stockholm police.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland Moves to Dilute Bank Secrecy

Switzerland emphasised on Tuesday its willingness to dilute bank secrecy, as the US Department of Justice indicated that it planned to continue with legal action to force UBS to reveal the names of its American offshore private banking clients.

Hans-Rudolf Merz, Switzerland’s finance minister, said Bern intended to negotiate 12 revised double taxation treaties this year, extending substantially the range of countries benefiting from greater transparency..

The need for fresh agreements followed Switzerland’s acceptance in March of transparency standards set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the industrialised nations’ club.

Six deals have already been negotiated, taking Switzerland halfway to the total of 12 required to remove the country from a “grey list” of countries not fully compliant with the new rules.

Talks with the US were concluded last week, surprisingly quickly, suggesting Swiss negotiators were keen to secure a settlement against the background of the UBS case.

The world’s biggest wealth manager is to fight a demand by the US Internal Revenue Service that it reveal 52,000 offshore relationships with US clients.

UBS has resisted fiercely, arguing acquiescence would involve breaking Swiss law and that such issues are best negotiated by governments, rather than by legal actions against companies.

The bank’s position has been upheld by the Swiss government and important trade federations. UBS is due to go to trial over the issue at a federal court in Miami on July 13.

Bern has also lobbied in Washington, reminding legislators about Switzerland’s services in countries such as Iran and Cuba, where the US has no diplomatic representation. The Swiss have also stressed the potential threat to the financial system of destabilising UBS, which has extensive operations in the US.

Legal experts expected next month’s court case to be long and complex. An adverse ruling would have triggered an appeal, with the issue possibly lingering for years until going to the Supreme Court.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday the IRS was considering dropping the action. “To have a complete meltdown in Swiss-US relations and go to the mat with Switzerland three years from now when money is getting back into the system doesn’t make sense,” said an unnamed US official.

However, the US Justice Department on Tuesday said it was not planning to drop its lawsuit. “There is no basis for the report in the New York Times,” it said.

UBS and the Swiss finance ministry declined to comment.

Analysts noted that to drop the case would remove a source of uncertainty for the bank — and for Swiss private banking in general.

Switzerland’s image as a confidential haven for private assets — whether declared or not — suffered a blow in February. UBS was forced by the Swiss bank regulator to disclose the names of 255 US clients to the American authorities.

The decision was a response to intense US pressure on Switzerland. It reflected fears in Bern UBS might otherwise face indictment. To publish the names was justified by the Swiss on the grounds those involved had used sham companies to evade tax, and so were not covered by the previous — restrictive — interpretation of laws to govern co-operation with foreign tax authorities.

Transfer of names was central to a deal by which UBS paid $780m to settle criminal charges that it had helped rich Americans evade tax. The agreement did not cover the linked — but separate — civil case by the IRS to require the bank to reveal the 52,000 client relationships.

To backtrack on that demand may reflect awareness in Washington of diplomatic and business repercussions. It may also stem from the fact many US taxpayers with undeclared accounts have come forward voluntarily.

Many accounts have also been closed after the bank’s decision last year to terminate offshore services for US clients.

UBS has offered to give client data to the IRS on an “anonymised” basis. The information, already assessed by independent auditors, is thought to show only a few account holders breached the rules. Anonymised access would allow the IRS to verify that.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK Muslim Group Faults Sarkozy Over Burqa Remarks

PARIS — A top Muslim group in Britain lashed out at Nicolas Sarkozy as “patronizing and offensive” on Tuesday, after the French president said body- and face-covering Islamic garments such as the burqa turn women into prisoners.

In Paris, parliament formally created a commission Tuesday to study the wearing of body-cloaking Muslim robes in France, a day after Sarkozy told lawmakers that the burqa would not be welcome in the country.

A top official with the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organization for British Muslim groups, accused Sarkozy of “divisive politics,” and said his comments could fan an “Islamophobic reaction” in Europe.

“It is patronizing and offensive to suggest that those Muslim women who wear the burqa do so because of pressure or oppression by their male partners or guardians,” the council’s assistant secretary-general, Reefat Drabu, said in a statement. “Such suggestions can legitimately be perceived as antagonistic towards Islam.”

One of Britain’s highest-profile Muslim politicians also joined the debate, saying it was not the government’s job to decide what people should or should not wear.

“This freedom to choose is one of the great values of our nation and why we are revered around the world,” Communities Minister Shahid Malik said.. “There are no laws stating what clothes or attire are acceptable and so whether one chooses to wear a veil or burqa, a miniskirt or goth outfit is entirely at the individual’s discretion.”

In Paris, the 32-member commission set up by parliament, with members from France’s four major political parties, will hold hearings that could lead to legislation banning burqas from being worn in public — a move a top human rights group said would be counterproductive.

“Banning the burqa will not give freedom to women,” Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of the Paris office of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “It will only stigmatize and marginalize women who wear it.”

France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 5 million. A small but growing group of French women wear burqas and niqabs, which either cloak the entire body or cover everything but the eyes.

Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, said he disagreed with the wearing of burqas as inconsistent with religious precepts — but said a ban would be counterproductive.

“A commission on a marginal phenomenon astonishes us — even more so because the current debate tends to stigmatize Muslims in France,” Moussaoui was quoted as saying in comments to be published Wednesday in France’s Le Parisien daily. The Associated Press received an advance copy of his remarks.

On Monday, Sarkozy told a joint session of parliament that he supported banning burqas in public, calling them “a sign of debasement” for women.

“We cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Sarkozy said. “It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”

Last week, a group of 60 lawmakers from all political parties signed a petition demanding a parliamentary study on the wearing of burqas. Muslim groups and government officials say it is difficult to know how many women wear burqas and niqabs in France, but estimate the number to be at least in the hundreds. They are far less prevalent than simpler Muslim head scarves..

The commission is expected within six months to complete its work, which could lead to a proposed law on burqas.

A similar type of commission led to a 2004 law banning the wearing of Muslim head scarves at public schools, along with Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

In France, the terms “burqa” and “niqab” often are used interchangeably. A burqa is a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan — with only a mesh screen over the eyes. A niqab is a full-body veil, often black, with slits for the eyes.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: BNP Dismisses Legal Action Threat

The British National Party has dismissed threats of legal action over its membership policies by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The commission said it had written to the party over possible breaches of the law in the BNP’s constitution, membership rules and recruitment.

It asked the BNP to pledge to comply with the Race Relations Act by 20 July or face a potential legal injunction.

But BNP leader Nick Griffin said the party’s rules were “entirely legal”.

Mr Griffin — who was elected as an MEP for the North West on 4 June — said the BNP was an exempted organisation under Section 25 and Section 26 of the Race Relations Act.

He said this meant “ethnic groups who need special protection such as the English in their own country, who are now second class citizens” were “entitled to discriminate on that basis and not on the grounds of colour”.

He added: “We are not discriminating on grounds of colour.”

On 4 June, the BNP won their first two MEPs in the European Parliament elections.

‘Deliberate omission’

In a statement, the commission said the BNP’s constitution and membership criteria appeared to discriminate on the grounds of race and colour, in breach of the Race Relations Act.

The party’s rules appeared to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regarded as particular “ethnic groups”, the commission added.

It also said the party’s website asked job applicants to supply a membership number, which appeared to be in breach of legislation banning the “refusal or deliberate omission to offer employment on the basis of non-membership of an organisation”.

The statement added: “The commission is therefore concerned that the BNP may have acted, and be acting, illegally.”

John Wadham, the commission’s legal director, insisted it had a duty to take action against possible breaches of anti-discrimination laws.

He said: “The legal advice we have received indicates that the British National Party’s constitution and membership criteria, employment practices and provision of services to constituents and the public may breach discrimination laws which all political parties are legally obliged to uphold.”

The commission said it had received around 50 recent calls from members of the public about the membership policy of the BNP, although it is understood it was already investigating the party.


The BNP’s Deputy press officer John Walker said the party would not be making a formal response to the commission at this stage as it wanted to “wait until the Equalities Bill has gone through”.

“We are not going to respond to threats like this. We will look at it, but it is an entirely politically-motivated attack,” he told BBC News.

The Equalities Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, is expected to include a move to outlaw the BNP’s membership policy, which is limited to various groups it defines as “indigenous Caucasian”.

Mr Walker said the BNP would be prepared to change its membership rules “to remain within the law”.

But he added: “I don’t think we should be bullied by outside forces. They are asking us to change our whole political ideology.”

On Monday, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was considering banning teachers in England from joining the BNP.

In its constitution, the BNP says it exists to represent the “collective National, Environmental, Political, Racial, Folkish, Social, Cultural, Religious and Economic interests of the indigenous Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse folk communities of Britain and those we regard as closely related and ethnically assimilated or assimilable aboriginal members of the European race also resident in Britain”.

It says membership of the BNP is “strictly defined within the terms of, and our members also self define themselves within, the legal ambit of a defined ‘racial group’ this being ‘Indigenous Caucasian’ and defined ‘ethnic groups’ emanating from that Race”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: New Cyber Chief to Protect Against Computer Attacks

Prime Minister creates security post after warnings of electronic espionage

Britain is to appoint its first national cyber security chief to protect the country from terrorist computer hackers and electronic espionage, Gordon Brown will announce tomorrow.

The Prime Minister’s move comes amid fears that the computer systems of government and business are vulnerable to online attack from hostile countries and terrorist organisations.

Neil Thompson, a senior civil servant, will be charged with protecting the national computer network.

Last month, President Barack Obama said he was making it a “national security priority” to protect the US computer network from attack and that he would set up a “cyber security office” in the White House to lead the counter-attack against hackers.

Mr Brown’s plans were endorsed by the Cabinet yesterday after a presentation by Lord West of Spithead, the Security minister. Concern has grown in Whitehall that hackers are targeting its computer systems and those of Britain’s largest companies.

Officials have said the biggest threat comes from China, but they have also expressed worries about the activities of criminal gangs based in Russia.

There are also fears that terrorists could switch to online attacks to try to cripple the national infrastructure.

Britain has discussed ways of boosting computer security with foreign allies including the US. President Obama said that terrorist attacks could come “not only from a few extremists in suicide vests, but from a few key strokes of a computer — a weapon of mass disruption”.

British security representatives have been observing cyberspace procedure used by the Americans. They include how US forces lured senior members of al-Qa’ida into a trap by hacking into the group’s computers and altering information that drove them into an ambush by US and British special forces in Anbar province in the middle of last year. Defence sources say that the Americans are moving cyber-warfare equipment into Afghanistan. The technology was used to block Taliban anti-aircraft defences.

According to security sources the US has commissioned research to study what it will take to close down enemy power stations and communications including air transport. The American authorities have barred Chinese companies from taking part in joint projects with its firms on a number of sensitive projects, something, it is claimed, the British have failed to do.

The security services have warned recently of renewed activities by Russian and Chinese intelligence in cyberspace research with the potential to interfere with communications in the UK. Four years ago, the Government issued a formal warning to Whitehall departments and business that they faced “trojan email” attacks from the Far East on an “almost industrial” scale.

Last August, the Government’s first national risk register also highlighted Britain’s vulnerability by cyber spies. It said: “The UK does remain subject to high levels of covert non-military activity by foreign intelligence organisations. They are increasingly combining traditional intelligence methods with new technical attacks, for example attempting to penetrate computer networks via the internet.”

The security services are also fighting a constant war in cyberspace against extremist Islamist internet sites that attempt to radicalise young people or co-ordinate attacks. The new Office for Security and Counter Terrorism has been given the task of disrupting terrorist networks, as well as carrying out a “hearts and minds” campaign within Britain’s Muslim population.

Tomorrow’s national security strategy, the second produced by Mr Brown, will also highlight the risk to the country from a wide range of man-made threats and natural disasters.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

WWIII? British Release Secret Planning Manual

LONDON — It’s October 1968, and the Soviet Union has just landed cosmonauts on the moon. Warsaw Pact troops are massing on the Austrian border, and nuclear showdown looms between east and west.

This scenario never happened — except in planning exercises by British civil servants, who meticulously rehearsed how they would govern Britain in the days before, and after, World War III. The details are included in the “War Book,” a secret Cold War manual declassified this month for the first time.

The book, which featured the doomsday scenario in a 1970 version, is a step-by-step guide for dealing with a crisis, from the first stages of conflict to “R hour,” the designation for the release of all Britain’s nuclear weapons.

“It’s a manual of how to go to war,” William Spencer, military history specialist at Britain’s National Archives, said Tuesday.

“It’s a technical manual in a way, for the people who needed to know,” he added. “But it could be seen as a horrific document for some people.”

Britain became a nuclear power in 1952 and British politicians were under no illusions about the devastating effects of nuclear war. A 1955 report, kept secret until 2002, estimated that an attack by Soviet hydrogen bombs would kill 12 million people instantly.

So every two years during much of the Cold War, British civil servants participated in a dry run for the end of the world, practicing how they would do everything from crack down on subversives to evacuate art treasures from London.

The exercises, played out over weeks, included daily mock news briefings from intelligence chiefs. Senior civil servants played the prime minister and Cabinet, deciding how to respond.

The 1968 exercise, revealed in the newly released manual, imagined Soviets landing on the moon as tensions mounted along the Iron Curtain. Day by day, the crisis escalated: Soviet troops invaded Austria, West Germany, Finland, Turkey, Greece and Italy, eventually invading “Danish islands.” Britons got more and more nervous — first writing letters to newspapers, then staying home from work, stocking up on food and buying supplies to build bomb shelters.

In calm bureaucratic language — loaded with code words to render the book meaningless to those not in the know — the document describes how as the crisis worsened, civil servants would introduce censorship, evacuate all but the sickest patients from hospitals and eventually be sent to one of 12 underground bunkers scattered around the country.

Britain was to be governed from these bunkers after a nuclear attack, with officials exercising powers of martial law over the remaining population.

Peter Hennessy, a historian who has studied the book and pushed for its release, said it provided a glimpse into “one of the darker bits of the British secret state in the Cold War.”

“The surprise really is the width and magnitude of it — 16 chapters to get the nation from a peacetime footing to a total war footing. It is a remarkable enterprise,” he told the BBC.

“When you consider where this road of decision-taking is leading to, it’s the end of the world. There’s no other way of looking at it. You would expect it to be cold print, coldly analytical, but this is sheer hell, really, the thought of it.”

Retired senior civil servant David Omand said he played the prime minister in one planning exercise and recalled the experience as “quite scary.”

“It just gives you a sense of humility that we expect our political leaders to take that kind of responsibility,” he told the BBC.

He told the broadcaster about what he called his “favorite measure” — the introduction of censorship for private correspondence — saying it “always aroused a lot of debate when we played these exercises.”

The document is the latest in a chilling series of Cold War artifacts that have recently been made public. In October, the National Archives released the scripts of statements the government planned to broadcast over the BBC in the event of nuclear war in the 1970s. “This is the wartime broadcasting service,” the announcement began. “This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons.”

The government’s first “War Book” was created in 1911, and it was updated regularly as warfare and the threats to Britain changed. Its contents were top secret — Spencer said only 96 copies were made of the 1964 book.

It’s not known how many copies were made of the 1970 version. Parts of it were published in 2000, but the whole book was only released by the National Archives this month. Later versions remain classified.

The government no longer plans for war with the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991, but it still keeps a “War Book” and rehearses for disasters such as a major terrorist attack.

A Cabinet Office spokesman would give no details of the current plans, saying only that there are “lots of contingency plans to deal with lots of different crises we face today.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Al-Qaeda Claims Algerian Ambush: Site

DUBAI (AFP) — Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims to have carried out an attack in Algeria which is believed to have killed 18 police and a civilian, US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence said on Sunday.

The statement circulated by AQIM, the North African wing of Al-Qaeda, includes a claim of responsibility for last Wednesday’s ambush on a security convoy for Chinese construction workers in Mansoura, Bordj Bou Arreridj province in Algeria, SITE said.

AQIM claims to have killed 24 Algerian paramilitary police in the strike but denies that it killed “innocents” during the attack, alleging that the Algerian police intentionally killed a civilian, the monitoring group said.

The AQIM statement says the Mansoura attack was one of 10 it carried out in Algeria between May 22 and June 18, killing or wounding more than 73 members of Algerian security forces, according to SITE.

Wednesday’s attack was the biggest by AQIM since the suicide bombing of a police academy killed 48 people in August last year.

The military convoy was returning to barracks after escorting Chinese construction workers to a motorway project when it came under attack on Wednesday evening.

The Chinese group CITIC-CRCC has a contract to build a section of motorway from Algiers to Bordj Bou Arreridj.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Terrorism in Algeria: Press Says Gendarmes Killed in Ambush

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JUNE 18 — Several members of the gendarme were killed yesterday evening in an ambush laid by an armed group near Bordj Bou Arreridj (230 km south-east of Algiers), according to the Arab-language press, though the information has not yet been confirmed by official sources. According to the daily papers Ennahar and Echourouk, 24 gendarmes were killed in the attack. After having their path blocked by the explosion of a number of bombs along the road, the military convoy was attacked by a group of armed men who opened fire on them. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Italy Backs Netanyahu’s Peace Plans

ROME — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a warm and supportive welcome Tuesday from Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, while postponing a potentially less comfortable meeting with President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy.

At a joint news conference after talks lasting about two hours, Berlusconi endorsed Netanyahu’s plan for a future demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as a “Jewish state.” That means that Palestinians must give up any notion of refugees who left what is now Israel — or their millions of descendants — resettling in their former homes.

And although the U.S. says emphatically that Israel must call an immediate halt to all forms of Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, Berlusconi was more gentle, speaking only of the need for Israel “to send signals” on stopping settlement.

“It was a very warm welcome,” an upbeat Netanyahu briefed Israel-based journalists traveling with him after the Berlusconi meeting. “It would be hard to find a better friend.”

Both men also discussed Israel’s concerns about what many Western countries say are Iran’s nuclear arms ambitions.

Italy is perhaps Israel’s greatest ally in Europe, but at the same time is Iran’s No. 1 European trading partner, accounting for about 26 percent of total import-export trade between EU countries and Tehran.

Last year alone, Italian imports from Iran amounted to euro4.1 billion ($5.73 billion) and Italian exports amounted to euro1.8 billion, according to the Italy-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Standing next to Netanyahu, Berlusconi said Italy’s economic ties to Tehran had always had the blessing of Israel and the U.S., and would continue as long as Washington approved.

Both leaders said they discussed at length the situation in Iran following the disputed June 12 election that returned hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi says he was the true winner, and his supporters have protested for days to demand a new election.

Netanyahu said the violent crackdown on the protesters “shows the true nature of this regime” that is making governments everywhere reassess their relations with Tehran.

“I believe that the courage shown by the people of Iran in facing bullets in the streets for the sake of freedom is something that deserves the salute of free men and women everywhere,” he said.

Making his first European tour since taking office, Netanyahu flies to Paris on Wednesday for talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy who says he is a firm supporter of Israel but nevertheless has also called for “an immediate and complete halt to settlement.”

In addition, he insists that Israel must cede sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, something that is anathema to Netanyahu and his right-wing political partners at home.

While in the French capital Netanyahu had been due to also meet the U.S. Middle East peace envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, who analysts and Israeli officials had expected to press Israel on the settlement issue.

But Netanyahu aides accompanying him in Rome said Defense Minister Ehud Barak would instead travel to Washington next week to hold talks with Mitchell.

A statement read out to reporters said the Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting was being postponed until after the talks with Barak in order to “clarify issues.”

Netanyahu says he will not allow construction of new settlements nor allow existing enclaves to expand beyond their current boundaries but he is not prepared to stop building within existing communities.

He says that the ultimate fate of settlements should be dealt with negotiations for a final, lasting peace agreement with the Palestinians and that in the meantime a compromise with the Americans can be found.

“Can we reach agreement on the settlement issue? Yes, if there is a will,” he told reporters.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Mahmoud Abbas Orders Release of Hamas Prisoners

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, JUNE 22 — The president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, has ordered the release of Hamas supporters detained in Palestinian prisons in the West Bank. The news was reported by the Palestinian press agency Maan. Initial assessments estimate that this could involve the release of more than 200 people. According to Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah parliamentary group in the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, the order — which could be brought into force in the coming days — would be carried out as part of Egyptian diplomatic efforts to bring the positions of Fatah and Hamas closer, in view of a joint meeting in Cairo on July 7. The press agency Maan reports that PNA security services already released around 20 Hamas activists last week. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Canadian PM Calls for Iran to Release Journalists

OTTAWA (AFP) — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Monday called on Iran to halt its assault on press freedoms and release all political prisoners and journalists, including Canadians.

Iranian authorities should “immediately cease the use of violence against their own people, to release all political prisoners and journalists — including Canadians — who have been unjustly detained,” he said.

Tehran must “allow Iranian and foreign media to report freely on these historic events, and to conduct a full and transparent investigation into allegations of fraud in the presidential election,” he said.

On Sunday, a Canadian journalist working in Iran for Newsweek magazine was detained without charge by Iranian authorities, the magazine said, adding Maziar Bahari had not been heard from since.

The New York-based magazine also said in a statement that as many as 20 journalists and bloggers were reported to have been detained since Iran’s June 12 elections, which set off mass protests after official results gave incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory.

Among them, a reporter for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper was briefly detained last week after being swept up in police crackdown. Authorities eventually apologized and released him.

Harper said: “The reaction of the Iranian authorities to the demonstrations in Iran is wholly unacceptable.”

He accused Iran of trampling on freedoms of assembly and free expression, beating demonstrators and then arresting them when they arrive at hospital for treatment.

“Journalists have been prevented from covering protests and subjected to arbitrary detention and arrest,” he said. “Foreign press credentials have been revoked.”

“The regime has chosen to use brute force and intimidation in responding to peaceful opposition regarding legitimate and serious allegations of electoral fraud,” he said.

Canada’s distaste for these goings-on in Iran would be strongly conveyed to its envoy in Ottawa, he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Christopher Hitchens: Persian Paranoia

Iranian leaders will always believe Anglo-Saxons are plotting against them.

I have twice had the privilege of sitting, poorly shaved, on the floor and attending the Friday prayers that the Iranian theocracy sponsors each week on the campus of Tehran University. As everybody knows, this dreary, nasty ceremony is occasionally enlivened when the scrofulous preacher leads the crowd in a robotic chant of Marg Bar Amrika!—”Death to America!” As nobody will be surprised to learn, this is generally followed by a cry of Marg Bar Israel! And it’s by no means unknown for the three-beat bleat of this two-minute hate to have yet a third version: Marg Bar Ingilis!

Some commentators noticed that as “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei viciously slammed the door on all possibilities of reform at last Friday’s prayers, he laid his greatest emphasis on the third of these incantations. “The most evil of them all,” he droned, “is the British government.” But the real significance of his weird accusation has generally been missed.

One of the signs of Iran’s underdevelopment is the culture of rumor and paranoia that attributes all ills to the manipulation of various demons and satans. And, of course, the long and rich history of British imperial intervention in Persia does provide some support for the notion. But you have no idea how deep is the primitive belief that it is the Anglo-Saxons—more than the CIA, more even than the Jews—who are the puppet masters of everything that happens in Iran.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Diana West: Blushing for Bret

Ahistorical and illogical things have been been written by many observers of the Iranian election protests who, looking at what the evidence to date suggests is little more than an intra-Islamic power struggle, see a glorious revolution of liberty-loving secularists ready to propel Iran into the heart of the Western world. Maybe it’s the blue jeans that confuse them. Anyway, I think we have a winner in this dubious category: Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal. His column begins this way:

It isn’t always that the words Allahu Akbar sound this sweet to Western ears.

I’m actually going to let “Allahu Akbar” sounding so “sweet to Western ears” pass because there is so much more….Stephens continues…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Iran Says Courts Will Teach Protesters a Lesson

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iranian authorities said they would teach an exemplary lesson to “rioters” held in the worst unrest since the birth of the Islamic Rapublic and pressed accusations that violence was being incited by Western powers.

(EDITORS’ NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)

Ten days of protest against elections that confirmed hardline anti-Western President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office have produced unprecedented protests and a public split in the Islamic establishment. Defeated candidates accuse the authorities of rigging the election and have demanded a rerun.

A moderate cleric defeated in the June 12 poll signaled on Tuesday opposition would continue, calling on Iranians to hold ceremonies on Thursday to mourn those killed at protests. At least 10 were killed in the worst violence on Saturday, and about seven more early last week.

Iranian state television, in broadcasts clearly intended to discredit opponents defying a ban on protests, paraded people it said had been arrested during weekend violence.

“I think we were provoked by networks like the BBC and the VOA (Voice of America) to take such immoral actions,” one young man said. His face was shown but his name not given.

A woman whose face was pixilated said she had carried a “war grenade” in her hand-bag. “I was influenced by VOA Persian and the BBC because they were saying that security forces were behind most of the clashes.

“I saw that it was us protesting … who were making riots. We set on fire public property, we threw stones … we attacked people’s cars and we broke windows of people’s houses.” The troubles have erupted against a background of tension between the West and Iran, a major oil and gas producer and pivotal factor in regional stability.


Trucks and police in riot gear were deployed on the main squares of Tehran on Tuesday, but there were no signs of any protest gatherings in the city by mid-afternoon.

A group of about a hundred hardliners gathered in front of the British embassy in Tehran, chanting “British embassy should be closed,” a witness told Reuters.

The Revolutionary Guard, fiercely loyal to the conservative religious establishment, has declared a crackdown on protests. Hundreds have been detained by police using tear gas and batons since poll results published on June 13 gave Ahmadinejad a landslide victory over chief rival Mirhossein Mousavi.

“Those arrested in recent events will be dealt with in a way that will teach them a lesson,” the official IRNA news agency quoted senior judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi as saying on state television late on Monday.

He said a special court was studying the cases.

“The rioters should be dealt with in an exemplary way and the judiciary will do that,” Raisi said.

Tehran’s hardline leadership is locked in dispute with Western powers over its nuclear program, which it says is intended for power generation but which the West suspects could yield nuclear weapons that could destabilize the region.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the protests had led to the “beginnings of change” in Iran. But he said President Barack Obama would not endorse any general strike there or otherwise involve himself with specific actions.

Mousavi was quoted by an ally on Saturday as calling for a national strike if he was arrested.

Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, rejected demands for a rerun from two losing candidates, former prime minister Mousavi and pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi.

An Iranian parliamentarian, Mahmoud Ahmadi, said on Tuesday Tehran would temporarily recall its ambassador to Britain, which the leading oil and gas producer has accused of fomenting trouble. A senior Iranian government source did not confirm the report carried by several Iranian news agencies.


Karoubi maintained pressure on authorities.

“Karoubi calls on Iranians around the country to hold ceremonies on Thursday to remember those (killed) at protests,” said aide Issa Saharkhiz.

People in Tehran, in a gesture of defiance first used in the 1979 Islamic revolution and now adopted by pro-reform protesters, again chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) from their rooftops at nightfall on Monday.

Mousavi, himself a scion of the Islamic establishment that seized power 30 years ago, says he does not seek confrontation with the country’s leaders but wants to root out what he calls lies and deceit exposed in the elections.

Iranian state TV said on Tuesday Tehran had been calm for a second night. “The presence of police and Basij forces in parts of the city has raised people’s feeling of security,” IRIB said.

Iranians on social networking sites called for mourning for “Neda,” a young woman shot dead on Saturday. Footage of her death has been watched by thousands on the Internet.

Iranian TV, quoting unnamed source, said Neda was not shot by a bullet used by Iranian security forces. It said filming of the scene, and its swift broadcast to foreign media, suggested the incident was planned.

Her fiance Caspian Makan told BBC Persian TV that Neda Agha-Soltan had been caught up accidentally in the protests.

“She was near the area, a few streets away, from where the main protests were taking place, near the Amir Abad area. She was with her music teacher, sitting in a car and stuck in traffic,” it quoted him as saying. “She was feeling very tired and very hot. She got out of the car for just a few minutes.”

A Greek journalist working for the Washington Times newspaper has been arrested on charges of “illegal activities,” a friend told Reuters. The friend said the journalist, Greek national Iason Athanasiadis, was arrested three days ago in Tehran and that his embassy had been informed

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Iran’s ‘Angel of Freedom’ Neda Soltan Vowed to Protest Against Injustice

Relatives and friends of Neda Soltan, the 26-year-old protester who’s become an international symbol of Iranian resistance, wanted her to be remembered for her love of music and passion for travel.

“She was a person full of joy,” the Los Angeles Times quotes her music teacher and close friend Hamid Panahi, who was among mourners at her family home. “She was a beam of light. I’m so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman.”

Details continue to emerge Tuesday about the murdered protester nickamed “Angel of Freedom,” after graphic videos of her apparent murder at a Tehran protest hit the Internet.

Images of Soltan’s bloody death on Saturday have galvanized the country and many insist on speaking out about this young woman and who she was, despite authorities banning anyone from mourning her.

Neda was reportedly gunned down during protests in the capital city. Videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter show her bleeding from the nose and mouth as a crowd tries unsuccessfully to stanch the flow and save her life.

The video also shows a moving clip of a man identified as Panahi cradling her head and yelling out, “Neda, don’t be afraid. Neda, stay with me. Neda stay with me!”

The second of three children, Soltan studied Islamic philosophy at a branch of Tehran’s Azad University before deciding to take private classes to become a tour guide, hoping to ultimately lead Iranians on trips abroad, the L.A. Times reported.

She was reportedly passionate about traveling and had gone with friends to Dubai, Turkey and Thailand. The young Iranian was also an accomplished singer who was taking piano lessons, according to Panahi.

Soltan was not a hardcore activist, but had started attending the mass protests because she felt deeply outraged by the election results.

“She couldn’t stand the injustice of it all,” Panahi told the L.A. Times.

A close friend of Soltan, who the L.A. Times identified only as “Golshad,” said Neda’s parents had asked her not to go to the protest, fearing it was too dangerous.

“I told her, ‘Neda, don’t go,’“ the Times quotes Golshad. “She said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s just one bullet and it’s over.’“

Friends say Soltan, Panahi and two others were stuck in traffic on their way to the demonstration sometime after 6:30 p.m.

When they stepped out of the car to get some air, Panahi heard a crack and then realized Soltan was on the ground.

“We were stuck in traffic and we got out and stood to watch, and without her throwing a rock or anything they shot her,” the Times quoted Panahi. “It was just one bullet.”

“I’m burning, I’m burning!” Panahi recalls Soltan’s final words.

Doctors, fellow protesters and medical staff at Shariati Hospital made heroic efforts to rush Soltan to surgery and save her, but she was reportedly dead by the time she arrived at the emergency room.

Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs, told FOXNews.com that Neda has become “one of the pillars of this movement now,” and the bloody images of her dying in the street are its “main icons and symbols.”

Her family scheduled a memorial service to be held in a mosque in northern Tehran, but the government forbade ceremony. She was buried quietly at Tehran’s Behesht Zahra cemetery on Sunday with only her family present, says Soona Samsami, executive director of the Women’s Freedom Forum, who has been relaying information about protests inside Iran to international media.

All mosques were given a direct order from the government barring them from holding any memorial services for Neda, and her family was threatened with grave consequences if anyone gathered to mourn her, said Samsami.

Soltan’s loved ones were outraged by the authorities’ order not to eulogize her.

“They were threatened that if people wanted to gather there the family would be charged and punished,” Samsami told FOXnews.com.

Much of the attention and blame for Neda’s apparent murder is now being focused on Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose threatening speech Friday preceded the violent protests Saturday at which apparently Neda lost her life. Khamenei is now the prime target for protesters’ outrage, Khalaji said.

“For the first time since the election it seems that people are including in their slogans ‘Down with Khamenei,’ and ‘Death to Khamenei,’“ he told FOXNews.com.

Iranian authorities have vehemently denied that police used lethal force to quell protests. They suggest loyalists to the exiled, outlawed opposition group Mujahedin Khalq may be responsible for the killing, the L.A. Times reported.

Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, said in an interview with BBC Persian that she had not supported any candidate in the allegedly fraudulent elections. Neda wanted “freedom for all,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Aeneas[Return to headlines]

Iranian Film Maker Speaks

I have had the privilege of meeting Lila once or twice in Ottawa Canada. She is a beautiful and effervescent woman who works hard producing films exposing the rot in the post revolutionary government of Iran. I think the most interesting thing she said to me about making films was, (paraphrasing) that if she expressed the truth about Iran, Islam and barbarity no Canadian or Western European film festival or theater would show her work. So she had to dumb it down the horror of it due to political correctness. In fact when she tells the simple facts about Islam, women and Iran, it violates Canada’s hate crimes laws.

What a tragic state of affairs for a film maker. In any case please read this excellent and impassioned article she wrote about current events in Iran. She is also connected to the excellent documentary recently posted to Vlad on the sex trade in Iran and how it is a creation of a repressive government who would not allow women the right to work at equal pay or without being someone’s mistress…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Israeli Minister’s Al-Aqsa Mosque Visit Angers Muslims

Muslim authorities denounce hardline Aharonovitch’s visit of Jerusalem mosque compound as ‘provocation’.

JERUSALEM — A far-right Israeli minister visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Tuesday, fuelling the anger of Muslim authorities who called the visit a provocation.

Police accompanied Interior Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch of the Yisrael Beitenu party as he visited the site, which is also holy to Jews, who call it Temple Mount.

Jerusalem Mufti Mohammad Hussein expressed outrage that the minister set foot in the compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

“This visit is a provocation; it will encourage other Israelis to carry out similar provocations,” Hussein said.

“He came to stir up trouble; it is an aggression against the Al-Aqsa mosque, which every Palestinian and every Muslim rejects.”

Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, accused the minister of “hurting the feelings of millions of Muslims.”

“This visit betrays the intentions of the Jewish state to continue seeking to judaise the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa,” Hamas said in a statement issued in Gaza.

It added that “any aggression on the Al-Aqsa mosque will have unfortunate consequences,” calling to mind a controversial visit by then conservative opposition leader and later premier Ariel Sharon in 2000 that sparked the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The compound is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. It is located on the site of the Jewish Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

It is located in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.

           — Hat tip: Aeneas[Return to headlines]

Kurdistan Brands Iraq Oil Contracts ‘Unconstitutional’

ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hit out at Baghdad on Tuesday, describing oil and gas contracts due to be awarded by the federal government at the end of this month as “unconstitutional”.

Iraq is due to announce which of 31 foreign and state-owned bidders have won deals to operate six major oil fields and two gas fields, for which the government will pay fees rather than share profits, on June 29 and 30.

The Iraqi oil ministry and Kurdistan, however, are at loggerheads over how international companies involved in the tapping of the nation’s vast energy reserves should be paid.

Iraq’s decision to award service contracts differs from Kurdistan, where numerous profit-sharing deals have been struck.

A statement issued by the Kurdish government said Baghdad’s policy was “unconstitutional and against the economic interests of the Iraqi people.”

“The regional government of Kurdistan has made clear progress in increasing Iraq’s oil exports and oil revenues in a short time,” it said.

“This progress has been made by focusing on exploration and not on existing fields, in line with the best practices of international markets, and in accordance with the principles of the Constitution of Iraq.

“The regional government regrets that it cannot say the same thing on the procedures taken the Federal Ministry of Oil of Iraq,” the statement added.

Article 109 of Iraq’s constitution says that oil and gas resources must be developed “in a way that achieves the highest benefit to the Iraqi people,” in a way “consistent with market principles and that best encourages investment.”

Iraq’s Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani has been accused of taking an ultra-nationalist approach, possibly deterring investment, by insisting that oil wealth — meaning profits — cannot be shared with foreign companies.

He has also come under criticism from MPs who accuse him of mismanagement resulting in 10 billion dollars in lost revenue for a federal budget that is projected to go into deficit.

The service agreement shortlist was first announced by Baghdad in June 2008 and includes global energy giants Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Sinopec, as well as large Iraqi state-owned operators.

The oil ministry has since repeatedly delayed announcing the bid winners.

Although Iraq has the world’s third largest proven reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia and Iran, development of the conflict-ravaged country’s fields has been very slow.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Middle East Politics: The Ideal, the Real, and the Imaginary

By Barry Rubin

A reader asks: Do we really want to promoting the making of deals with “moderate dictators” or are we better urging them to turn their countries into liberal democracies?

This writer answers:

What we “really want” to do is not the issue here. Political reality is what is important.

Under normal and current conditions we—meaning North America and Europe—are better off making deals with relatively moderate dictators while supporting liberal forces to make them stronger so they can play a role some day. The same principle applies for Israel.

Today—except for Lebanon—there is no real liberal democratic alternative in the Arabic-speaking world regarding real political power. If you want to understand why this is true, read my book The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.

The main threats to the West, to Israel, and even to the Arabs themselves are radical Islamists (Iran’s regime, Hamas, Hizballah, Muslim Brotherhoods, al-Qaida) and their radical nationalist allies (Syria particularly).

Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and—most problematically given its pro-Tehran stance—Qatar are on the same side of this battle as we are—despite all their problems, shortcomings, and appeasement behavior—in this battle.

Let’s take the worst-case eample on the above list, Saudi Arabia…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Mousavi, Celebrated in Iranian Protests, Was the Butcher of Beirut

He may yet turn out to be the avatar of Iranian democracy, but three decades ago Mir-Hossein Mousavi was waging a terrorist war on the United States that included bloody attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

Mousavi, prime minister for most of the 1980s, personally selected his point man for the Beirut terror campaign, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-pur, and dispatched him to Damascus as Iran’s ambassador, according to former CIA and military officials.

The ambassador in turn hosted several meetings of the cell that would carry out the Beirut attacks, which were overheard by the National Security Agency.

“We had a tap on the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon,” retired Navy Admiral James “Ace” Lyons related by telephone Monday. In 1983 Lyons was deputy chief of Naval Operations, and deeply involved in the events in Lebanon.

“The Iranian ambassador received instructions from the foreign minister to have various groups target U.S. personnel in Lebanon, but in particular to carry out a ‘spectacular action’ against the Marines,” said Lyons.

“He was prime minister,” Lyons said of Mousavi, “so he didn’t get down to the details at the lowest levels. “But he was in a principal position and had to be aware of what was going on.”

Lyons, sometimes called “the father” of the Navy SEALs’ Red Cell counter-terror unit, also fingered Mousavi for the 1988 truck bombing of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Center in Naples, Italy, that killed five persons, including the first Navy woman to die in a terrorist attack.

Bob Baer agrees that Mousawi, who has been celebrated in the West for sparking street demonstrations against the Teheran regime since he lost the elections, was directing the overall 1980s terror campaign.

But Baer, a former CIA Middle East field officer whose exploits were dramatized in the George Clooney movie “Syriana,” places Mousavi even closer to the Beirut bombings.

“He dealt directly with Imad Mughniyah,” who ran the Beirut terrorist campaign and was “the man largely held responsible for both attacks,” Baer wrote in TIME over the weekend.

“When Mousavi was Prime Minister, he oversaw an office that ran operatives abroad, from Lebanon to Kuwait to Iraq,” Baer continued.

“This was the heyday of [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s theocratic vision, when Iran thought it really could export its revolution across the Middle East, providing money and arms to anyone who claimed he could upend the old order.”

Baer added: “Mousavi was not only swept up into this delusion but also actively pursued it.”

Retired Adm. Lyons maintained that he could have destroyed the terrorists at a hideout U.S. intelligence had pinpointed, but he was outmaneuvered by others in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan.

“I was going to take them apart,” Lyons said, “but the secretary of defense,” Caspar Weinberger, “sabotaged it.”

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Netanyahu Slams Iran at Start of Europe Trip

ROME (AFP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticised Iran on Tuesday as he began his first trip to Europe since taking office, saying the country’s current turmoil revealed its “true nature.”

“Something very fundamental has taken place in Iran, and the world now sees the true nature of this regime,” the hawkish Netanyahu told a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi.

Slamming arch-foe Iran for “repressing its own people,” Netanyahu said: “The courage shown by the people of Iran, in facing bullets on the streets for the sake of freedom, is something that deserves the salute of free men and women everywhere.”

Iran on Tuesday ruled out canceling its disputed presidential vote as the world voiced increasing alarm at a crackdown on demonstrators who are posing the most serious challenge to the Islamic regime in 30 years.

“This undoubtedly is being assessed in every capital in the world, and I’m sure it’s being assessed as well in Washington,” Netanyahu said when asked about US President Barack Obama’s restrained stance on Iran.

Berlusconi said he reiterated to Netanyahu his “firm condemnation of the statements of the Iranian leader that Israel should be wiped off the map..”

He added: “Italy, like other Western nations, believes Iran should not have nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli official told AFP in Rome that a planned meeting between Netanyahu and the US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, had been cancelled.

Instead, Mitchell will meet Monday in Washington with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barack, the official said.

“This delay will enable us to throw light on topical questions which are now hanging in the air and have not been resolved,” he said, without elaborating.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently clashed over US demands for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

On May 27, the chief US diplomat said Obama had made it clear during Netanyahu’s earlier visit to Washington that he wants no “natural growth exceptions” to his call for a settlement freeze.

Lieberman had insisted that would not be possible.

Netanyahu, on his first official trip to Europe since his election in late March, was expected to push for stiffer sanctions against Tehran in both Rome and Paris over its nuclear programme.

He has repeatedly said the programme constitutes the biggest threat to Israel since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.

Shortly before Netanyahu arrived in Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called on Israel to declare a moratorium on the expansion of its settlements in the West Bank.

“We would very much appreciate a gesture on the Israeli side announcing a moratorium on the expansion of existing settlements,” Frattini told reporters.

Frattini said Rome would also seek “clarity” from Netanyahu on the growth of settlements.

“The Israeli side has told us it refers to development following natural demographic growth. If that means adding a floor to one’s own house after the birth of a child, that is not a problem,” Frattini said.

“If it means expanding settlements like wildfire, that is a problem.”

Netanyahu came under fire for adding a raft of conditions to Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state in a speech on June 14.

Israel has refused to freeze settlements as demanded by the international community, which sees building in the West Bank as undermining prospects for a Palestinian state.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama Condemns Violence Against Iran Protesters

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dramatically hardening the U.S. reaction to Iran’s disputed elections and bloody aftermath, President Barack Obama condemned the violence against protesters Tuesday and lent his strongest support yet to their accusations the hardline victory was a fraud.

Obama, who has been accused by some Republicans of being too timid in his response to events in Iran, declared himself “appalled and outraged” by the deaths and intimidation in Tehran’s streets — and scoffed at suggestions he was toughening his rhetoric in response to the criticism.

He suggested Iran’s leaders will face consequences if they continue “the threats, the beatings and imprisonments” against protesters. But he repeatedly declined to say what actions the U.S. might take, retaining — for now — the option of pursuing diplomatic engagement with Iran’s leaders over its suspected nuclear weapons program.

“We don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out,” the president said. “It is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.”

Obama borrowed language from struggles throughout history against oppressive governments to condemn the efforts by Iran’s rulers to crush dissent in the wake of June 12 presidential elections.

[Return to headlines]

Protest Organisers Held in Iranian Raid — Report

Iranian police raided a building in downtown Tehran Monday night and arrested a number of people accused of organising illegal protests and acting against national security, an Iranian news agency said Tuesday.

The searched building was located in Haft-e Tir square, where witnesses had said police Monday dispersed a group of demonstrators protesting against the official results of a disputed June 12 presidential election.

“Last night a building in Haft-e Tir square was searched … in which activities in favour of one of the candidates took place,” the semi-official Fars News Agency said, without naming the candidate.

These included “organising illegal gatherings, encouraging people to riot, acting against the country’s security,” Fars said. Documents about “relations with the enemies’ media and the interference of foreigners were discovered at this centre.”

It said those arrested were held on the basis of “criminal documents” that had been discovered, and were being interrogated. Two other such centres have been identified, Fars said.

Official results showing hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by a landslide sparked days of protests by supporters of moderate former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, his main challenger. Mousavi says the election was rigged, a charge the authorities reject.

The elite Revolutionary Guards, seen as fiercely loyal to the values of the Islamic Republic, Monday threatened to crush any further street unrest. State media have reported at least 17 people killed in post-election violence, blaming “terrorists.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

U.S. Contacted Iran’s Ayatollah Before Election

Administration overture to Khamenei ridiculed in sermon

Prior to this month’s disputed presidential election in Iran, the Obama administration sent a letter to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations, according to interviews and the leader himself.

Ayatollah Khamenei confirmed the letter toward the end of a lengthy sermon last week, in which he accused the United States of fomenting protests in his country in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential election.

U.S. officials declined to discuss the letter on Tuesday, a day in which President Obama gave his strongest condemnation yet of the Iranian crackdown against protesters.

An Iranian with knowledge of the overture, however, told The Washington Times that the letter was sent between May 4 and May 10 and laid out the prospect of “cooperation in regional and bilateral relations” and a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Iranian, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the letter was given to the Iranian Foreign Ministry by a representative of the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations. The letter was then delivered to the office of Ayatollah Khamenei, he said.

The letter was sent before the election, whose outcome — delivering a supposed landslide to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has touched off the biggest anti-government protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Obama administration, while criticizing a violent crackdown on demonstrators by Iranian security forces, has said that it will continue efforts to engage the Iranian government about its nuclear program and other issues touching on U.S. national security.

In his news conference on Tuesday, however, President Obama gave his most forceful statement yet about Iran’s actions, which have led to the deaths of at least 17 protesters, including a young woman whose shooting death has become known around the world through the Internet.

“I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place. … Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”

Mr. Obama added, however, that the United States has “core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.”

“We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms.

“It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path.”

A senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because he was discussing private communications, would not confirm or deny that a letter had been sent to Ayatollah Khamenei and would not say if there had been a response.

However, the official said, “We have indicated a willingness to talk for a long time and have sought to communicate with the Iranians in a variety of ways. We have made it clear that any real dialogue — multilateral or bilateral — needed to be authoritative.”

Under the Iranian Constitution, Ayatollah Khamenei makes the final decisions on Iran’s foreign and defense policies.

In a lengthy sermon Friday that reaffirmed the disputed re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei made an oblique reference to a letter from the U.S. but embedded the reference in a diatribe against purported U.S. interference in Iranian affairs.

“The American president was quoted as saying that he expected the people of Iran to take to the streets,” Ayatollah Khamenei misquoted Mr. Obama as saying, according to a translation by Mideastwire.com.

“On the one hand, they [the Obama administration] write a letter to us to express their respect for the Islamic Republic and for re-establishment of ties, and on the other hand they make these remarks. Which one of these remarks are we supposed to believe? Inside the country, their agents were activated. Vandalism started. Sabotaging and setting fires on the streets started. Some shops were looted. They wanted to create chaos. Public security was violated. The violators are not the public or the supporters of the candidates. They are the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”

An Iranian news site, Ayandehnews.com, first reported on the U.S. letter on Tuesday.

Asked about the letter, the Swiss ambassador to Washington, Urs Ziswiller, told The Times, “I cannot comment on that.”

Past U.S. efforts to engage Iran have foundered, in part because the overture was addressed to Iran’s president rather than the supreme leader. This was the case in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton wrote a letter to then-President Mohammed Khatami seeking cooperation against terrorism in the aftermath of a bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, thought to have been committed by Iran-backed Saudi Shi’ites, took place before Mr. Khatami took office.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration would do better to “avoid any talk of engagement” with Iran until the outcome of the current political ferment is clearer.

“The fact is, we will by necessity engage, but not at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think we want to suggest it will be business as usual, regardless of the outcome” of the political struggle in Iran.

Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama’s tougher remarks on Tuesday showed that he understands that “the prospects for a successful engagement are declining.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Unrest Could Hinder Tehran’s Regional Goals

CAIRO — Iran has had an impressive run for the past decade — expanding its regional muscle through proxy militias, its expanding missile capabilities and its big brother role with Iraq’s Shiites after the toppling of arch-foe Saddam Hussein.

But the fallout from the post-election unrest will most likely bring tougher times for Iran’s ambitions beyond its borders.

“Instability inside Iran will minimize the state’s capacity to project power in the region and beyond, a practice in which Iran has been very successful recently,” said Amr Hamzawy, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.

It’s been a steady string of advances claimed by Iran or its allies.

In 2000, Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas proclaimed victory after Israel pulled its troops out of south Lebanon after 20-plus years of occupation. In 2003, a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s hostile regime, replacing it with a new political system dominated by Shiite parties closely linked to Iran.

Armed and trained by Iran, Hezbollah again withstood an invasion by far superior Israeli forces in a 35-day 2006 war. A year later, Iranian-backed Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip, defeating forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president.

Iran’s economic and political support also has enabled Syria to survive U.S. sanctions and international isolation, thus keeping it firmly in the hard-line camp opposed to U.S.-backed rivals Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

But the ironclad image of a confident Iran — united behind its clerical leadership — has been shattered in the violent challenge to June 12 election results that showed a landslide re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Clashes erupted over the past week between supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and militiamen loyal to the regime in the worst unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The violence, captured in thousands of compelling images posted on the Internet for the world to see, has brought harsh criticism from a United States that has been reaching out to Iran to end 30 years of animosity and, significantly, from key trading partners France and Germany.

If the regime rides out the crisis over the election, experts say a much more ideologically entrenched Iran could emerge and pursue regional goals more forcefully, including seeking to broaden its footprint in neighboring Iraq and resisting compromises over the scope of its nuclear program.

But if it bows to demands by Mousavi for a new election — which now appears unlikely — the regime would be seen as weakened by Arab states but perhaps less of a regional rival.

Iran has in the past few years taken advantage of the waning powers of such regional heavyweights as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to gain leverage in the Middle East. Its effort was helped by a surge of anti-American sentiments among Arabs after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the war on terror waged by former U.S. President George W. Bush.

However, continuing unrest would distract Iran from regional affairs, leaving Iranian proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas unable to count on Tehran’s largesse and vulnerable in the face of domestic rivals.

“If there is a more serious and violent repression of protests and a consolidation of power behind the ruling bloc, then the Arab world could be facing a more entrenched and hostile regime for years to come,” said Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from the Century Foundation in New York.

Under normal circumstances, Iran’s immediate regional policy objective now would be to revive a Shiite alliance in Iraq ahead of a Jan. 30 general election. This would ensure that Tehran’s Iraqi allies maintain their grip on power at a time of growing uncertainty about security in view of the diminishing U.S. military presence in the run-up to a full withdrawal of forces by the end of 2011.

The absence of an active, high-level Iranian role could doom the alliance, thus fragmenting Shiite power and seriously hurting the comeback chances of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Tehran’s closest Iraqi ally. The council suffered embarrassing losses in provincial elections in January in what is believed to be a backlash against religious parties.

“Continued instability … will blunt Iranian initiative in shaping political events in its strategically significant neighbor,” said Hanna.

But Iraqi lawmaker Mustafa al-Hiti, a Sunni Muslim, offers a different take.

“Neither of them (Ahmadinejad and Mousavi) will change his country’s policy toward Iraq,” he said. “Both will want to gain as much control as possible of our country and by any means possible.”

Besides Iraq, Hezbollah would be the group most affected by who wins Iran’s confrontation — the militant wing led by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad or the camp of reformist-minded politicians and clerics to which Mousavi belongs.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah shares with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad a deeply rooted hatred for the United States and a firm belief that years of peace talks with Israel have come to nothing and only armed struggle would restore Palestinian rights.

“Your re-election represents a great hope to all the oppressed people, holy warriors and resistance fighters,” Nasrallah wrote to Ahmadinejad two days after the June 12 vote.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: The Daughter Converts to Christianity, Muslims Marginalize the Family

The relatives of the young woman, who lives in the United States, speak of a “wrong” choice and demand an end to bullying. The woman risks a fatwa for apostasy, her husband seeks a divorce. Solidarity from Catholics activists who denounce the violation of religious freedom.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Marginalized by the local Muslim community as a result of their daughter’s conversion to Christianity. This is the story of a family from Dhaka that has condemned the woman’s decision as “wrong” and stressed that “it can not endure for much longer” the harassment they are suffering. Catholic activists are in solidarity with the couple and talk about a new case of violation of human rights and religious freedom.

Kazi Quamrunnessa Luna moved to the United States after earning her degree in Bangladesh. She is married to Tazim Bhuiyan, of Muslim faith, with whom for over a decade, she tried to have children without success. The repeated condemnations and curses launched against her by her husband’s family because she failed to get pregnant, gave rise to tensions and malaise that the woman tried to relieve by starting a journey of faith. After attending Hindu temples and several churches, Luna met Pastor James Roy — of the Missouri Lutheran Church — with whom she embarked on a spiritual path.

This year she decided to convert to Christianity and received baptism in the United Bengali Lutheran Church of America. Her husband has returned to Bangladesh and family members are crying out for divorce if “Luna does not return to Islam.” Kazi Zebunnessa, Luna’s younger sister, reports that “since that man has spread the news” a climate of exclusion and threats has been created around the family

“My brother — says Kazi — can not even go to mosque. We are surrounded by an atmosphere of stigma, and if the Luna returns to Bangladesh, it is likely they will issue a fatwa against her and her life will be in danger”. Luna’s mother added that she could not “take any more pressure from people” for a decision that is “just my daughter’s” and denounces a general climate of “insecurity”.

Annie Halder, a Catholic activist, speaks of an ever-growing violence against women in particular and “against all those who decide to convert to Christianity”. In this context, the activist recalls the case of Christina Gomez Goni, “killed by extremists” for apostasy.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

India Bans Maoist Communist Party

The Indian government has banned the Maoist Communist Party of India as a terrorist group, giving security forces enhanced powers of arrest.

The move provides Indian police with the power to detain members of the party even if they have not been involved in insurgent activity.

Earlier, five states across east and central India were put on a high alert as the Maoists called a two-day strike.

One district in West Bengal briefly fell under almost total Maoist control.

The rebels said the strike they declared was in response to the “war” on people in Lalgarh, West Bengal, where security forces launched an offensive in recent days.

Lalgarh had been under the virtual control of the rebels since November.

But police and paramilitary troops have been attempting to consolidate their grip on the jungle enclave over which they re-established control over the weekend.

Monday’s strike began a day after 11 police officers died in a rebel attack in Chhattisgarh state and two days after 16 policemen were killed in landmine blasts triggered by the Maoists in the same state.

Issuing a high alert for the five states in which the strike was declared, the interior ministry said India’s federal Intelligence Bureau had “specific inputs” that Maoists were planning possible attacks.

“Security forces, as well as economic infrastructure like railways, buses and crowded markets, may be targeted by the Maoists to make their presence felt during the strike,” the interior ministry advisory said.

India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has described the Maoists as the greatest threat to India’s internal security.

The ban on the Communist Party of India (Maoist) comes just a month after the Congress party won a decisive victory in elections — leaving it with no need to turn to communist parties for support in shoring up a coalition.

Correspondents say it is unclear how big an impact the ban will have in the fight against the rebels.

Lalgarh unrest

Villagers in Lalgarh say their young men are being forced by police to hunt for explosives planted by the Maoists.

“They are giving the village boys an S-shaped iron rod each, asking them to hook it to wires sticking out anywhere and pull it. This is dangerous because they will be too close to the explosives if the wires are linked to them,” said Chattradhar Mahato, chairman of the Peoples Committee on Police Atrocities (PCPA), active in the Lalgarh area.

Some of Bengal’s leading artists, including film-maker Aparna Sen, visited Lalgarh on Sunday in a attempt to broker peace between the West Bengal government and the Maoists.

But neither appeared to be in a mood to talk.

“The Maoists have no specific demand, they are just out to create trouble. We have to continue the operations to deal with them,” said Bengal’s chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarty.

Maoist leader Kishneji told the BBC: “We will show the government what is people’s power. No police or army can crush that.”

Thousands of villagers have fled their homes in the Lalgarh region to avoid getting caught in the fighting, heading towards neighbouring areas of Bankura district.

The Bengal government started the offensive to retake Lalgarh, which had effectively been under Maoist control since November.

The Maoists skilfully harnessed people’s anger over police excesses following an Maoist attempt to kill chief minister Buddha Bhattacharya through a landmine blast, says the BBC’s Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta.

Maoist-linked violence has killed 6,000 people in India over two decades.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Report: US, Kyrgyz Deal on Airbase Use

MOSCOW — The United States and Kyrgyzstan have reached a deal for use of a Kyrgyz airport to transport U.S. military supplies to Afghanistan, Russian news agencies reported Tuesday.

Kyrgyz officials were quoted by Interfax and RIA-Novosti as saying that the deal was reached Monday to make the Manas airbase a “center of transit shipments.”

RIA-Novosti said a committee in the Central Asian country’s parliament will discuss the agreement as early as Tuesday.

U.S. and Kyrgyz officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev stunned Washington in February when he announced that his country would be evicting U.S. forces from the Manas airbase.

The base has been an important transit point for U.S. personnel and supplies heading to Afghanistan, particularly with supply lines through Pakistan threatened by fighting in the border regions.

But in recent weeks, Kyrgyz officials have signaled that they were open to reconsidering the decision. The U.S. has a pressing need for use of Manas for logistical support for the thousands more troops being sent to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama.

Bakiyev made the announcement about the eviction just hours after reaching a deal with Russia for more than $2 billion in financial aid and loans to the ex-Soviet republic.

That led U.S. officials to suggest that Moscow, which has long been wary of the U.S. presence in Central Asia, was behind the Kyrgyz decision.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

US Missile Strike Kills 60 at Funeral in Pakistan

A US drone aircraft killed at least 45 Pakistani Taliban militants in south Waziristan yesterday when it fired missiles at the funeral of an insurgent commander killed earlier in the day, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

“Three missiles were fired by drones as people were dispersing after offering funeral prayers for Niaz Wali,” one intelligence official said, referring to a Taliban commander who was one of six militants killed in an earlier drone attack.

The army had no information on the attack on the funeral in the remote area under the control of Baitullah Mehsud, the country’s enemy number one, a military official said.

One local security official, who could not be identified as he was not authorised to speak to media, said that more than 60 had died of whom “half are civilians”. Funerals of Taliban are attended by local villagers, not just militants.

Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, is part of Pakistan’s lawless tribal area, where US forces have mounted about 60 drone attacks against suspected militants since early last year.

But bombing a funeral is unusual and may be unprecedented. Local media reports said a local commander named Sangeen, originally from Afghanistan, was among the dead.

Mehsud, an al-Qaida ally accused of plotting the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, had been in the area but was not hurt, a Taliban official said.

The US has offered a reward of $5m for information leading to Mehsud’s location or arrest.

The attacks came as Pakistan’s efforts to tame the burgeoning Taliban movement in the west of the country suffered a blow when a rival of Mehsud was shot dead, apparently by one of his own guards.

Qari Zainuddin, who had repeatedly criticised the Pakistani Taliban’s chief for targeting civilians, was shot in his office in the town of Dera Ismail Khan. Baz Mohammad, one of Zainuddin’s aides who was wounded in the attack, said a guard barged into a room at the leader’s compound after morning prayers and opened fire. Mohammad accused Mehsud of being behind the attack and vowed to avenge the death.

“It was definitely Baitullah’s man who infiltrated our ranks, and he has done his job,” Mohammad told AP.

The guard, who is thought to have insinuated himself into Zainuddin’s circle about four months ago, fled in a waiting car after the attack. Mehsud, described as the mastermind behind much of the terrorist activity in Pakistan, has yet to comment on the killing.

Zainuddin was estimated to have about 3,000 armed followers in Dera Ismail Khan and nearby Tank. Earlier this month, he denounced Mehsud for the killing of civilians in recent attacks, which were apparently launched in retaliation for the army offensive in the Swat valley.

The country’s armed forces are driving militants from the valley and have been pounding Mehsud’s strongholds in the South Waziristan tribal region, near Afghanistan, in apparent preparation for a big offensive against the warlord.

While some saw the killing as a sign of a schism within the Pakistani Taliban, other analysts argued that Zainuddin’s death removes from the scene an important threat to Mehsud. Some believe Mehsud feared Zainuddin more than the Pakistan army because he was an opponent from within, with intimate knowledge of his methods and personnel.

Zainuddin could have rallied the Mehsud tribe, perhaps the only way of eliminating Baitullah Mehsud and his network. For the first time since Mehsud became leader of the main group of the Pakistani Taliban four years ago, Zainuddin’s bold stance had given others in the Mehsud clan the courage to speak up against his vicious reign, which broke all tribal traditions.

A tribal leader from South Waziristan, too scared to be named, said: “The message from Baitullah Mehsud is that who-ever wants to come openly against me will meet the same fate.”

Zainuddin, 30, was protected by two dozen armed guards at his compound, but the security was not as strong as might be expected for someone who had taken on so violent an enemy. The danger was obvious. Mehsud had demonstrated his ruthlessness by killing hundreds of the Mehsud tribe’s traditional elders — who might have led resistance — as he came to power.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

China and US Hold Military Talks

Defence officials from the United States and China are meeting in Beijing for two days of high-level talks.

They are expected to discuss several recent naval confrontations between the two countries in the South China Sea.

North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests — and how to react to them — will also be on the agenda.

Military relations between China and the US have been strained since last year because of the US sale of arms to Taiwan.

Sovereignty claim

Michele Flournoy, the US under secretary of defence for policy, is leading the US delegation for the talks, set up in 1997.

She will meet Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces.

One of the top concerns for the US team is the confrontations between ships from the two countries in the South China Sea.

Already this year, there have been a handful of incidents off China’s southern coast.

Just a few weeks ago, a Chinese submarine collided with sonar equipment being towed by the USS John S. McCain off Subic Bay in the Philippines.

China says that was an accident, but the US says it is worried about the increasing number of such incidents.

There is already a mechanism to deal with this kind of conflict.

“We would hope to reinvigorate those discussions so that we can make sure that we’re both operating in a safe and prudent manner,” said a US defence department spokesman before the US delegation arrived in Beijing.

China says the South China Sea, and its island chains, are part of its sovereign territory and it has previously complained about US naval activity in the region.

The Defence Consultative Talks between China and the US are usually held every year, although not last year.

Beijing suspended military ties between the two nations last October in protest at the US decision to sell $6.5bn-worth of arms to Taiwan, an island China considers its own.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Notorious Bikie Boss Allan Sarkis Breaks His Silence

THE head of Sydney’s newest and most-feared bikie gang last night revealed membership is growing rapidly — mainly young men of Middle Eastern heritage who don’t all ride motorbikes.

Allan Sarkis, named publicly yesterday as the president of Notorious, made no apologies for his gang’s reputation and said they would not be dictated to by traditional bikies.

“We’re not following anybody’s existing rules,” Sarkis said.

“As far as us being the new age bikies, if that’s a problem for somebody, we don’t apologise.

“We’re a bike club that was formed as a motorcycle club to not be undermined and not be dictated to by existing clubs.”

Sarkis said the warring outlaw motorcycle clubs should be sorting out their differences behind closed doors — not in public.

After a week in which one man was bashed to death, there were a string of shootings, arrests of gang members and police launched an anti-bikie crackdown, Sarkis said he was “far from panicked”.

“I don’t have a guilty conscience,” he said.

Dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, Nike shoes and no motorbike in sight, Sarkis said Notorious lived by their own strict rules and were not like other bikie gangs.

Just two days after being charged with possessing a prescribed restricted substance, Sarkis said he believed the club was misunderstood and denied the club played a part in Sydney’s escalating bikie war.

He said he wouldn’t apologise for representing the “new age” in outlaw bikie clubs.

Sarkis, 34, admitted the public perception of Notorious was not “real good”, but said he was unworried by the club’s reputation within Sydney’s bikie underworld.

He said the club had been vilified in the media.

“(Reports) that we’re a criminal gang, that we’re fighting over drugs. We’re not. That we’re fighting over security; we’re not,” he said.

Sarkis said the club was growing at a comfortable rate, but refused to comment on the number of members or chapters in Sydney.

“We’re as big as we need to be,” he said.

Notorious was formed following the dissolution of the Parramatta chapter of the Nomads. The club has reportedly been involved in a dispute with rivals the Bandidos over drugs and nightclub security.

Sarkis denied any knowledge of a feud with the Bandidos and refused to comment on drive-by shootings in Sydney’s west and southwest linked to the club in recent weeks.

He said the club drew members from all religions and ethnic groups.

“Australia has been used to the clubs that have been around for a while and the appearance of a new club has maybe been taken as a threat to them,” he said.

He said the club was open to communication with other clubs.

“If there’s any club out there that does have an issue with us, or would like to raise an issue with us, I believe it should be kept out of the media, and out of the police,” he said.

He said he was not concerned about what other clubs thought of Notorious members.

He described Sydney’s bikie wars as “sensationalism”.

“The boys we have put together are all leaders. They are not followers,” he said.

“We are doing our own thing.”

He said the club had a strict policy on drugs: “One thing we don’t condone in this club is drugs or anything to do with drugs.

“Linking us to drugs, or the drug trade, is way out of line.”

The club lived by a strict code and “we won’t allow any of our members to disrespect the club. We keep our house in order”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Perth Dobs in Bikies

West Australian police say they have fielded more than 100 calls from people wanting to dob in bikies.

Phone-in-a-bikie day was launched earlier this month, with WA Police Minister Rob Johnson announcing a print and radio advertising campaign asking the public to call with information to boost the force’s intelligence efforts.

Police urged the public to give information about where bikies worked, what businesses they were involved in, where they drink and who they were associated with.

They said the anonymous calls were needed to monitor the state’s 260 patched bikie members.

The words “phone in” were used rather than “dob in” as market research showed the latter was regarded as “un-Australian”, specialist crime assistant commissioner Wayne Gregson said.

Sergeant Graham Clifford said that by late on Tuesday, 111 calls had been received on the bikie hotline.

“There’s been 57 inquiries activated by those calls,” Sgt Clifford said.

WA joined police in SA, NSW and Queensland in the initiative, which encourages members of the public to pass on information related to bikie gangs.

In South Australia, the focus was on offences related to blackmail and extortion, which SA police say is a feature of illegal bikie activity.

Following a meeting of police ministers in Perth last week, Mr Johnson announced support for a national push to outlaw criminal bikie gangs, mirroring laws already in place in NSW and South Australia.

Under the NSW and SA models, membership of bikie gangs can constitute a criminal offence.

The push for the laws followed a fatal bikie brawl at Sydney Airport in March.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Weapons Found in Unit: Ibrahim Guilty

Former Nomads bikie Sam Ibrahim has pleaded guilty to four weapons charges relating to a police raid at a Parramatta unit.

Ibrahim, the eldest of the four Ibrahim brothers, had been arrested in December 2006 over a shooting at the Nomad’s Newcastle clubhouse. He was charged over the kneecapping of two Newcastle Nomads, but along with two other accused, was found not guilty on all charges in October last year.

However, Bankstown Local Court heard today that police working on the shooting had gone to a unit on Campbell Street in Parramatta in 2006 where they believed Ibrahim was staying.

“A telephone service known to be used by the accused was rung and a phone was heard to ring inside … shortly after the accused opened the front door of the premises for police wearing only underpants in a state suggesting he had only just woken up,” a police document tendered to court today stated.

The court was told that once inside the unit, police found several items in the master bedroom, including a walking stick with a concealed sword, two pairs of nunchucks and a ceramic chest plate from a NSW Police Force ballistic vest.

Ibrahim pleaded guilty to the possession of all four weapons today.

He was sentenced to two separate good behaviour bonds and fined $1500.

Brett Galloway, acting for Ibrahim, told the court that Ibrahim had spent about two years in segregation in prison following his arrest in 2006 and had already been sufficiently punished.

Ibrahim had the sword stick because “he had a serious motorcycle accident in 2004 and he was given the walking stick as a present”, Mr Galloway told the court.

He also said that Ibrahim used the ballistic vest as a platform for a trolley in the apartment and the nunchucks for martial arts training.

Ibrahim is on remand over an alleged kidnapping earlier this year. He was expected to apply for bail on that matter at Liverpool Local Court tomorrow.

One of his brothers, Fadi, is in hospital after being shot five times in an attempted assassination

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mau Mau Veterans Lodge Compensation Claim Against UK

A group of elderly Kenyans allegedly tortured and assaulted during the repression of their country’s independence movement in the 1950s is to present a letter to No 10 tomorrow morning calling on the British government to launch an investigation into their treatment.

Today three men and two women, who say they were variously beaten, raped and castrated during the Kenyan “emergency” from 1952 to 1960, lodged a claim for compensation against the government at the high court and demanded an official apology. Tomorrow, they will ask Gordon Brown for a meeting to discuss their position.

The five are veterans of the Mau Mau movement, which rose up against the British colonial administration. Their lawyer, Martin Day, said he believed they had a good chance of success.

“This will be the first time that the British government has had to account for its terrible, terrible deeds. This case is about justice for those individuals who had a terrible, terrible time. A number of them suffered from castration, women suffered from horrendous sexual abuse, many, many Maus Maus were beaten, tortured and killed,” he said. “This case is about bringing all those issues before the British court and a British judge to say ‘what we did was wrong’.”

The Mau Mau movement remained proscribed as a terrorist movement in Kenya until 2003, leaving those who had been members or accused of being members to “live under a shadow”, Day said. This was part of a “quiet conspiracy” between the Kenyan and British governments.

The five plaintiffs travelled to Britain from rural Kenya, many clutching walking sticks as they made their way along London’s streets.

Paul Multe, a former Kenyan MP, pointed out that the youngest of their number was in their late 70s. “Is it really moral that Britain should delay the hearing of this case?” Multe asked. “Is it not highly immoral that Britain should choose to do that for the purpose that these veterans will just die away?”

The five are: Ndiku Mutua and Paulo Nzili, who both say they were castrated, Jane Muthoni Mara and Susan Ngondi, who say they were seriously sexually assaulted, and Wambugu Wa Nyingi, who was imprisoned for nine years in spite of never having taken the Mau Mau oath.

Nyingi said he witnessed 14 men being killed in one camp and 11 in another, surviving only because he lay for three days amid their corpses and the guards assumed he was dead.

The Foreign Office said: “It is, of course, right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts. But as we have previously indicated to the solicitors, we expect to contest the cases on questions around liability and limitations. Because of the prospect of legal action and without seeing the detail of this, it would not be right to comment further on the particular aspects of this case.”

The figures for the number of people detained during the Kenyan emergency period is disputed; the official estimate is 80,000.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Nigerian Militants Attack Three Shell Oil Sites

LAGOS (Reuters) — Nigeria’s main militant group said on Sunday it had attacked three oil installations belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the Niger Delta, widening a month-old offensive against Africa’s biggest energy industry.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in an emailed statement it had attacked Shell pipelines at Adamakiri and Kula, both in Rivers state in the eastern Niger Delta, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

It said it had also attacked the Afremo offshore oilfields, which it believed were operated by Shell, and which it said were 14 miles from an export terminal through which crude oil from Shell’s Forcados fields is pumped..

Shell said it was investigating reports of attacks against its installations at three locations and was carrying out fly-overs to try to assess any impact on output or the extent of any environmental damage from potential spillage.

A senior industry source said the third attack was not thought to have been on a deepwater installation, but on a facility located in or close to the mangrove creeks, where pipelines and equipment run across broad stretches of water.

The attacks are the first to strike Rivers state, the easternmost of the three main states in the Niger Delta, since the militants launched their latest campaign of sabotage following a military offensive in the western delta last month.

Persistent attacks by MEND over the past three years have cut oil output in the OPEC member, the world’s eighth biggest crude oil exporter, to less than two thirds of its installed capacity of 3 million barrels per day (bpd).


Industry and security experts say it is virtually impossible to prevent opportunistic attacks on hundreds of kilometers of pipeline and equipment in the remote mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta, one of the world’s biggest wetlands.

“The militants are going about attacking pipelines in isolated parts of the creeks where they know they will not encounter resistance,” said Colonel Rabe Abubakar, spokesman for the joint military taskforce in the Niger Delta.

MEND first burst onto the scene in late 2005, knocking out more than a quarter of Nigeria’s oil output — then around 2.4 million bpd — in a matter of weeks.

But it has largely failed to carry out such spectacular attacks since then, although the latest campaign has nibbled further at production levels in a country that relies on oil for around 90 percent of its foreign earnings.

Agip said on Friday a pipeline attack in Bayelsa state had halted production of around 33,000 barrels of oil and 2 million cubic meters of gas per day.

Shell said on Thursday some oil production had been halted following an attack on the Trans Ramos pipeline late on Wednesday at Aghoro-2 community in Bayelsa.

Chevron shut down its operations around Delta state after MEND’s first attack in its latest campaign on May 24, halting around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd).

MEND has dubbed its offensive “Hurricane Piper Alpha” after the North Sea oil platform that blew up in July 1998 and was the worst offshore oil disaster, and warned that it might attack deepwater facilities off the Nigerian coast.

Security sources say some oil firms have been removing non-essential personnel from some offshore sites.

MEND says it is fighting against the militarization of the Niger Delta and for a fairer share of the wealth for local villagers. But the leaders of armed gangs it works with have grown rich from a lucrative trade in stolen oil and from ransoms paid for hundreds of oil workers kidnapped in recent years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Somali ‘Thieves’ Face Amputation

[At the end of this news story the phrase “moderate Islamist” is used, unironically, to describe Somalia’s current President. — io’p]

Hardline Islamists have condemned four young Somali men to a double amputation for stealing mobile phones and guns.

They will each have a hand and a leg cut off after being convicted by a Sharia court in the capital, Mogadishu.

The al-Shabab group has carried out amputations, floggings and an execution in the port of Kismayo but such punishments are rare in the capital.

Al-Shabab and its allies control much of southern Somalia and are battling the UN-backed government.

Hundreds of residents attended the hearing in north Mogadishu.

Armed al-Shabab militants were on guard, while the accused were chained around their ankles.

‘Too hot to amputate’

Three mobile phones and two assaults rifles were displayed, which the accused had allegedly stolen, reports the AFP news agency.

“The defendants admitted the charges brought against them and were sentenced accordingly. Each one of them will have his right hand and left leg amputated publicly,” said Judge Sheikh Abdallah al-Haq.

It is not clear where the leg will be cut.

No date was set for the punishment, which will be carried out after the health of the accused is assessed.

Furthermore, Monday was very hot and the court decided that carrying out an amputation in such conditions could lead the accused to bleed to death.

Amnesty International said the four men had not been given a fair trial.

“We are appealing to al-Shabab not to carry out these cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments,” said Tawanda Hondora, a spokesperson for the human rights group.

“These sentences were ordered by a sham al-Shabab court with no due process or guarantees of fairness.”

The punishments already carried out in Kismayo have shocked many Somalis, who traditionally practise a more tolerant form of Islam.

The transitional government says that al-Shabab has links to al-Qaeda and has brought hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, has declared a state of emergency and has appealed to Somalia’s neighbours to send troops to help fight the hardliners.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Mexico: ‘Green Fund’ Better Than Carbon Credits

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Felipe Calderon made a push Monday for his proposal for a $10 billion “green fund” as a more efficient way to fight climate change than carbon credits.

Calderon spoke at the opening of the latest session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which brings together representatives of 19 countries and the European Union that together account for 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The current carbon credits would not have to disappear, but they are not an efficient mechanism,” Calderon said, noting that the credits market “has to match an industry that wants to pollute with another” that has projects to compensate or reduce gas emissions.

The two-day meeting opened near the city of Cuernavaca. It is the third in a series of talks called for by President Barack Obama that will culminate with a June summit in Italy.

The goal is to help broker a replacement for the expiring Kyoto Protocol, ahead of a United Nations conference in Copenhagen next December on a new international treaty for dealing with global warming.

Calderon said the green fund could be administered by the World Bank or some other multilateral agency.

It would be funded by contributions from all nations — and open to finance projects from all nations — as opposed to largely private-sector carbon credit market.

“It will have a framework of greater multilateral participation, which will result in a more equitable and efficient distribution of funds,” Calderon said.

He said the idea “does not seek, as has been traditional, that the funds to fight climate change … come from the same old donors as an act of charity or a handout given to developing countries.”

“It is time to move on from mutual reproaches, to a shared scheme of responsibility,” Calderon said.

The amount each country would donate to the fund would be open to negotiation, but rich countries would be expected to give more.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Official: No Black Box Signals From Flight 447

PARIS — French military ships searching for the black boxes of Flight 447 have detected sounds in the Atlantic depths but they are not from the Air France plane’s flight recorders, a French official said Tuesday.

The official and French investigators denied a report on the website of the French newspaper Le Monde that French ships had picked up a signal from the black boxes.

French military ships searching in the area where the plane crashed have “heard sounds” but “the black boxes have not been detected,” said an aide to France’s minister in charge of transport, Jean-Louis-Borloo. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to be publicly named.

The two recorders, key to helping determine what happened to the Air France plane that plunged into the ocean May 31, will only continue to emit signals for another eight days or so.

The Airbus A330 plane fell into the Atlantic after running into thunderstorms en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 228 people aboard were killed. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

The French air accident investigation agency, BEA, said in a statement Tuesday that “no signals transmitted by the flight recorders’ locator beacons have been validated up to now.”

The BEA said work is continuing “aimed at eliminating any doubts related to any sounds that may be heard, and any findings will be made public.”

Last week, BEA director Paul-Louis Arslanian sternly warned against any unconfirmed leaks in the investigation, saying they could mislead the public and unnecessarily worry or encourage the families.

Le Monde said a mini research submarine, the Nautile, dived Monday to search for the boxes based on a “very weak signal” from the flight recorders picked up by the French ships.

French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck said he could not confirm or deny the Le Monde report. French air accident investigators and officials with the French marine institute that operates the mini-sub, Ifremer, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brazilian and American officials said that as of Sunday evening no signals from the black boxes had been picked up.

Searchers from Brazil, France, the United States and other countries are methodically scanning the surface and depths of the Atlantic for signs of the plane.

French-chartered ships are trolling a search area with a radius of 50 miles (80 kilometers), pulling U.S. Navy underwater listening devices attached to 19,700 feet (6,000 meters) of cable. A French submarine is also searching.

The black boxes send out an electronic tapping sound that can be heard up to 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) away.

Ten of 50 bodies recovered from the Air France flight that plunged into the Atlantic three weeks ago have been identified as Brazilians, medical examiners said.

Dental records, fingerprints and DNA samples were used to identify the bodies. Investigators are reviewing all remains, debris and baggage at a base set up in Recife, Brazil.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


28,000 Illegal Attempts to Enter UK Foiled

New figures reveal the increasingly desperate battle to protect borders

The number of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain from the continent has nearly trebled in the past five years, new figures show.

Nearly 20,000 attempts by immigrants to enter Britain illegally were thwarted in Calais last year compared to 7,500 in 2004.

A further 9,000 were stopped in Coquelle and Dunkirk, Belgium and Paris. It is not known how many more immigrants succeeded in outwitting the UK border forces.

The Home Office figures paint a picture of an increasingly desperate battle between the UK Border Agency and the growing number of foreigners who believe they have a chance of a better life in the UK.

This year, immigration officers found 13 Afghanis and two Iranians hiding in a lorry-load of light bulbs. The Hungarian-registered lorry was stopped at Calais before it could board a ferry across the Channel.

Similarly, failed attempts were made by two Vietnamese men concealed in a consignment of nappies. And last year, border officers thwarted a bid by four Afghans who were found in lorry-load of champagne.

The immigration crisis in Calais, the temporary home to thousands of immigrants trying to come to Britain, has worsened in recent weeks.

On Monday, there were reports that the French town was under siege after hundreds of protesters arrived to demand an end to border controls between France and Britain. Riot police were on alert in the streets after intelligence reports raised fears of widespread violence.

The record number of successful interventions by UK border officers has been largely due to a marked increase in immigration controls and freight searches carried out by British officers on the Continent. Last year, there were 738,474 searches.

There have also been developments in methods used to detect people who are trying to cross the border. Body detection dogs are trained to smell humans who are inside vehicles simply by sniffing the air outside.

Heartbeat detector sheds contain mobile computers that uses four special vibration sensors to detect movement inside a vehicle.

And carbon dioxide probes detect carbon dioxide, the gas which is expelled by the lungs.

The Border and Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: “The UK has one of the strongest borders in the world. We work closely with our French partners to tackle illegal immigration using state-of-the-art technology such as carbon dioxide and heartbeat detectors.

“Last year alone, UK Border Agency staff at our French and Belgium controls not only searched more than one million lorries but also stopped 28,000 attempts to cross the Channel illegally.

“The illegal migrants in France are not queuing to get into Britain — they have been locked out,” Mr Woolas said. But the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs, Chris Huhne, said: “The huge rise in detections last year begs the question how many illegal immigrants were slipping through the net before.

“These figures are worrying precisely because they suggest that control at our borders is still far too weak, and for everyone detected there may be far more who are not.

“We need a national border force with police powers to ensure that only legal migrants enter Britain, and that the human trade in trafficked migrants is stopped and its organisers are brought to justice. Our borders have been too porous for too long.

“We need an immigration system that is firm but fair but we currently have neither.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Problem for EU, Emergency Plan Soon

(by Chiara De Felice) (ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — The flow of illegal immigrants that cross the Mediterranean and land in Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece is now a problem that will have to be dealt with by the European Union. After pressure from Rome, the leaders of the 27 countries are jointly looking at the “dramatic situation in the Mediterranean”, drawing up an emergency plan and studying how to distribute immigrants in a well-balanced manner. The conclusions of the EU summit state that “Recent events in Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece are proof of the need to increase efforts to prevent and combat illegal immigration within the southern borders of the EU, thereby avoiding tragedies”. Leaders of the 27 “are very worried by the dramatic situation” and intend to “help the most affected members to counter these flows”. Help will mainly come in the shape of an European emergency plan that will be drawn up by the EU Commission in the next weeks, as explained by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Frattini stated that today’s summit “went beyond” the well known European pact for immigration which is not working because “certain member states are not compliant”. The closing chapter on immigration, contained in the final statement, cites Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece as the countries most affected by illegal immigration issues. The European Union “acknowledged” that immigration “is a problem for all of Europe”, said Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who explained that Italy asked for, among other things, joint patrols and repatriations, with shared costs. In practice, immigrants who land on the southern shores of the EU and are granted protection will be moved to other member states who agree to look after them in order to alleviate the burden of states such as Italy, “that are exposed to a specific and disproportionate pressure” of clandestine flows, as indicated in the report issued by the 27. Operations will start immediately with a pilot project in Malta, while France has already announced that it is ready to welcome approximately 80 refugees from Valletta. Other countries are not as willing to help. Today German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that “Germany helps in many ways, now we need to boost security along our borders, not share out refugees between us”. The matter of repatriation, which is currently regulated by bilateral agreements between member and non-member countries, is now of European significance. The Council invited the Commission to work on repatriation agreements with the refugees’ main countries of origin and transit, such as Libya and Turkey. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Thomson Reuters Plans to End Dual-Company Structure

LONDON (AFP) — Financial information provider Thomson Reuters intends to end its dual-listed company structure, a move that will see the group no longer traded in London or on the Nasdaq market.

In a statement issued late Monday, the Canadian-British group urged shareholders to vote on changing the dual-listed company (DLC) structure at meetings set for August 7.

Thomson Reuters was created in April 2008 after Canada’s Thomson Corp bought Britain-based news agency Reuters.

Currently, New York-headquartered Thomson Reuters is divided into Thomson Reuters Corporation in Canada and Britain-based Thomson Reuters Plc.

“The equity markets are increasingly global and electronic, and our investors deserve the very best capital structure we can provide,” Thomson Reuters chief executive Tom Glocer said in the statement.

“Our board has determined that consolidating the trading of our shares into a single, global and deep pool of liquidity, listed on the Toronto and New York Stock Exchanges, is in the best interests of all shareholders.

“When we formed Thomson Reuters, we believed a DLC structure was the best way for Reuters shareholders to stay invested in our shares and participate in our growth,” said Glocer.

“However, the shareholders of Thomson Reuters have changed considerably and UK shareholders now only constitute five percent of the combined shareholder base,” he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UN: Islamic Law is Major Influence on Refugee Law, Says Study

New York, 23 June (AKI) — The 1,400-year-old Islamic custom of welcoming people fleeing persecution has had more influence on modern international refugee law than any other traditional source, according to a new study sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said that more than any other historical source, Islamic law and tradition underpin the modern-day legal framework on which UNHCR bases its global activities on behalf of the tens of millions of people forced from their homes around the world.

This includes the right of everyone to seek asylum as well as prohibitions against sending those needing protection back into danger, Guterres said in the foreword to “The Right to Asylum between Islamic Sharia and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study.”

In the study, Professor Abu Al-Wafa, Dean of the Law Faculty at Cairo University, describes how Islamic law and tradition respects refugees, including non-Muslims; forbids forcing them to change their beliefs; avoids compromising their rights; seeks to reunite families; and guarantees the protection of their lives and property.

“The international community should value this 14-century-old tradition of generosity and hospitality and recognize its contributions to modern law,” wrote Guterres.

He said that “racism, xenophobia and populist fear-mongering manipulate public opinion and confuse refugees with illegal migrants and even terrorists.”

These attitudes have contributed to misperceptions about Islam, and Muslim refugees — who account for the majority — have paid the price, said Guterres.

“Let us be clear: refugees are not terrorists. They are first and foremost the victims of terrorism. This book reminds us of our duty to counter such attitudes.”

The study, published by UNHCR in cooperation with Naif Arab University and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, is scheduled to be launched on Tuesday at Naif Arab University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

Denmark: Iranian Embassy Issues Warning.

Demonstrations in Iran against the results of the presidential election are an insult to democracy ...

In other late breaking news: Water flows uphill, sun sets in east and dogs sleep with cats. Civilization ends as we know it. Tape at eleven.

bewick said...


Baron I must sadly say that your links now become highly suspect. This supposedly "new" item is actually dated 2008.
The oily (some choose the rather longer description "oleagenous" which means the same!)
Mandelson has since stepped down as an unelected EU Commissioner, appointed to the now corrupt House of Lords, and appointed an unelected Cabinet Minister by the highly flawed UK Prime Minister. SOME claim that Mandelson is the de facto Prime Minister!
Sadly THAT IS likely.
I have no doubt at all that Mandelson has the absolute objective of making the UK simply a "region" of the EU with rather less powers than any American State within the US constitution (a FACT).We are all but there. Superb thanks for twice rescueing Europe, and losing Empire, and becoming effectively bankrupt, in the process is it not!!!!
The oily toad clearly intends to become the right-hand man , Rasputin -like, sidekick of HIS candidate for EU President - the actor Tony Blair. Machiavelli could have learned much from Mandelson.
SOME homosexuals clearly have ideas WAY beyond their station. One wonders what secrets Mandelson protects to gain such power. His intellectual abilities don't provide clues because in my opinion they are rather low on the scale.
Truth is that I believe Mandelson hopes to become the true ruler of the whole of the EU via his "actor" friend.

There likely ARE much better links about the activities of this snake but he DOES manage to keep a low profile so maybe not. A DANGEROUS - well I WAS going to say "man" but I'm not actually sure - so "person". and NOT only dangerous for the UK but the whole of Europe and perhaps the world. OR perhaps I flatter him. Have you guessed? I hate this person with every part of my body.

Baron Bodissey said...

bewick --

My links are not “suspect”. They would be suspect if what they linked to was untrue or misleading.

They are just links with excerpts. I rely on what people send me, and people (including me) are fallible.

Most tipsters send the excerpts themselves, so that I don’t even have to click the link. But even if I do, I may not pay attention to the date. I simply look at the headline and the first few sentences to make sure that the article is not obscene or otherwise inappropriate.

If I had to check everything carefully, then the news feed wouldn’t happen at all. The whole point is to present material here that would otherwise not be used, and to take up as little of my time as possible while doing so. Since there are on average 60-90 news stories here each night, obviously I can’t do much more to check them, being that I am a single human being and not an entire news bureau.

Your choice is between getting occasional “suspect” links, and not getting any at all.